Catch-22 of Covid-19


A friend of mine posted this photo on his Facebook wall. He stated this is the percentage of the US population who have been confirmed with the coronavirus which is why he isn’t scared and everyone is way over reacting. It’s nothing worse than the seasonal flu he claims and many people agreed with him.

This represents the Catch-22 of the alternative realities we live in and, in the end, there are no winners inside the debate.

Context: the current estimated COVID-19 transmission rate is between R2 and R3. This means, on average, one infected person infects somewhere between two to three others. This makes it three times more contagious and transfers much easier than the seasonal flu.

At the moment, there is no vaccine and no cure. The mortality rate is estimated between 1% to 4% of infected individuals (currently 6% in Italy). The confirmed cases in the US today are 1,600 but that’s because we’ve only tested 11,000 people. That’s a 15% positive identification rate.

I estimate that, right now, there are at least 20,000 people infected in the US that haven’t been detected yet. The confirmed cases are doubling every three days. The only method of it not affecting tens of millions of Americans is self distancing and shelter-at-home policies (in addition to good hygiene, washing of hands, not touching face, etc.). If we don’t all practice some method of social distancing and isolation, it will spread wildly, uncontrollably and unabated.

This is what leads to the Catch-22. If we follow my friend’s thinking (and many others) it will most likely spread and become the deadliest virus in US history since the 1918 H1N1 flu pandemic (the “Spanish Flu”) which killed 675,000 people in the US. Or, we take what he, and many others, will consider to be extreme and drastic measures via forced sheltering-at-home edicts to prevent widespread contagion.

When we do this (and we will be doing it), many will be rolling their eyes and mocking it. They will be laughing and saying, “why is everyone so overreacting?!”. They won’t take the warnings seriously. They will let everyone know they feel this is all BS and attempt to shame others for feeling so scared and afraid of something that’s nothing more than the seasonal flu. Their incredulity will eventually turn to despise and anger and lead to civil unrest and disobedience.

What these people aren’t going to see, and will never admit after we successfully get the virus pandemic under control, is that BECAUSE we took these “drastic and extreme” measures, we prevented a massive outbreak and saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

Right now, the main goal is to get the contagion rate to R1 or less. At R1, it means one infected person infects, on average, one other person. Obviously, we’d like the R0 to be less than R1 but, at R1, it’s controllable inside our population.

Why is R1 (or less) so important? There are two main reasons: hospital capacity and time.

If COVID-19 continues to spread at its current rate, the numbers in the calculator above continue to multiply exponentially. To illustrate, I asked my friend to take out his calculator and do the following: take that number and multiply it by two. Now hit the equal sign 18 times. If we do nothing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and change nothing in our daily lives, the number on the calculator is representative of 54 days from today. What is the number? 1.44%. That is equal to 4.7MM Americans infected with the virus. Hit it again, that’s 57 days from today: more than 9MM people are infected.

We have approximately 1MM hospital beds in America and 96,000 ICU beds. The normal occupation rate is 68% so we have about 300,000 beds open at any given time. If we assume a hospitalization rate of 15%-20%, we run out of hospital capacity in six-to-seven weeks and our healthcare system and medical workers are overrun and, for all intents and purposes, collapses.

The second reason is time. If we prevent a massive outbreak of cases which prevents our hospitals from collapsing, it gives bio-tech and pharmaceutical companies time to study the virus and find possible drug therapeutics that can contain, limit or reduce the mortality rate on infected individuals. A vaccine will take much longer to develop than a therapeutic.

Which leads me back to the Catch-22. We are going to implement “drastic” measures. When we implement these measures that many will mock and believe are draconian and overkill, I believe we will contain it. I hope we can keep our numbers to less than 100,000 infections and 1,000 deaths.

If we are successful, after it’s “over”, the critics are going to write Facebook posts and go on the television and say, “See? I told you so. It was no big deal. All of you idiots way overreacted. I told you there was nothing to be afraid of. You shutdown our country and our economy for a virus that was nothing more, maybe a little worse, than the seasonal flu. You should have listened to me all along.”

What they won’t account for is that, BECAUSE we did these things, we prevented massive contagion, illnesses and deaths.

This is the problem. And it is a problem with no solution. People are going to believe what they are going to believe. The only way the naysayers and critics would ever change their point of view is if we don’t act aggressively and COVID-19 infects more than 10MM or 20MM people and results in over a million deaths. This is the only situation in which they might be willing to say they were wrong from the start and provided bad advice and information.

My prediction is that we will be forceful and aggressive in preventing a national outbreak of epic proportions by mandating social distancing and shelter-at-home policies. I predict that we will be successful in “flattening the curve” and it not overwhelming our healthcare system because of these measures.

I also predict that after we are successful in doing it, all of the same critics are going to use every data point available and proclaim it was all for naught. They will claim the lock down had no effect; that the same number of people would have got infected and died regardless of what we did, or didn’t, do. The mental distortion field they live in will allow them to defy science, math and logic. It doesn’t take a scientist to understand basic math: we will effectively reduce social engagement and connection, on average, anywhere between 50% to 70% (and in some major cities it will be closer to 80%-90%).

The math is fairly simple: via social distancing, let’s assume we end up with 1MM infections and 50,000 deaths. If we don’t, and it continues to spread at a rate between R2-R3, by definition there is actually “no end” and it will continue to grow exponentially. It’s easy to calculate how, over the next few months, we easily get to 10MM infections and 500,000 deaths, most likely double that.

At some point, due to the rapid growth, we will be forced to shut down to save lives. At that point, even the naysayers, will finally agree we need to do it but only after hundreds of thousands of lives were lost in the process.

Sadly, there is no way to “win” inside this argument with the critics and naysayers.

I hope we act quickly and aggressively to prevent a mass outbreak. I also realize that when life returns to a new normal, all of the critics will be there crowing about how right they were all along.

As much as it pains me to say, I look forward to the Facebook posts, critics and pundits mocking me and everyone else who took it seriously and acted quickly because we will have saved hundreds of thousands of lives. I am looking forward to the mocking, the ridicule and the “I told you so” comments because when we get them, it will mean that we “won” and we were successful in preventing a massive outbreak.

Unfortunately, although we will have beat the outbreak, we will be no further along as a society and, in reality, this pandemic will only serve to further distance the gulf in our society today. The Catch-22 mental distortion field will continue to live on and resurface again when the next crisis arrives.

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Shawn Riegsecker

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