Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking on March 11, 2020, commented that up to 70% of Germans would be infected with COVID-19. I suspect this means 100% of Germans will be exposed to the virus. Considering the interconnectedness of the world, it seems a reasonable prediction that 100% of people in the world will become exposed. There are already confirmed cases on every continent in the world (excluding Antarctica), and in the majority of countries in the world. Will this exposure reach 100% within 3 months? I don’t know and no one seems to be asking the question. But in my opinion the answer is “yes”.
COVID-19 is highly contagious and it has a long incubation period. This means that people will wander about, infecting others for days before they realize they are sick. Knowing this, people are anxious to be tested. That’t not going to happen. At this point, test kits are scarce and are being reserved for people who are exhibiting symptoms (fever, coughing, sore throats, shortness of breath). Add to this the many people who will continue to mingle in public even after they know they are sick, because they cannot afford to stay home and not work. So there you have it—the virus is going to go everywhere.
Another important question to ask in this situation is: “How long will it take for a vaccine to be issued for COVID-19? According to Antonio Regalado in an article in the MIT Technology Review, it will probably take 18 months. President Trump met March 2 with executives from a dozen biotech companies to discuss the issue of research and manufacture of a new vaccine. There was discussion of new methods for producing vaccines, along with hopes for a short timeline, but there are clear production constraints, the primary one being that vaccines can actually make healthy people sick. We cannot expect or ask for new vaccines to go into the market until they have been carefully tested.
What this says is that efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 are fiction. Let me make it clear here that the World Health Organization was adamant that “…allowing uncontrolled spread should not be the choice of any government!” If there is merit in their proclamation it is this: slowing the spread of the virus also slows the demand for hospital emergency care. It will not reduce the actual number of people who need hospital care but spreading the same number of people over a greater time span gives hospitals a better shot at managing the demand. All else being equal, this will certainly save lives.
Still, what we are talking about here is spreading world exposure from a 3-month period to a 6-month period (guessing the time frame). No matter what we do we are all going to be exposed before a vaccine is made available. If we face the fact that everyone is going to be exposed to COVID-19 before a vaccine is produced, perhaps we will be a bit less in panic mode. Perhaps we would be less inclined to closing our schools, stopping travel to Europe, impeding international trade, canceling public events, and avoiding public places. Shutting down business and manufacturing have their own negative repercussions. Who would have thought last week we would be panicking today about the availability of toilet paper? But toilet paper should be low on our list of concerns. What will be the impact if we start experiencing food shortages or shortages of medicines? Population sequestering, while slowing the spread of COVID-19, may well result in shortages that are even more dangerous to the general population than COVID-19. In short, avoiding unnecessary exposure, such as NCAA basketball games, seems like a good idea, but to curtail basic societal functioning is dangerous.
The panic currently being demonstrated by government officials seems based on the human psychological need to “do something” in the face of a problem. Politicians are particularly susceptible to this kind of pressure. They may spend half their careers blocking useful legislation from the opposing party, and spend the other half introducing legislation to name the state insect, but when the electorate gets up in arms about an immediate, short-term problem, they know, it’s time to act. That’s all well and good. Sometimes it is time to act. But mostly what we get from politicians is a lot of commotion and dust, such that when all is said and done, it’s mostly about rearranging the furniture.
What I would like to see more of in the media is advice on how individuals should manage in a world of omnipresent COVID-19. One useful bit of information is the data coming out of China. It seems that the overall mortality rate of those infected is about 2.3% at the most. It is also clear that age is an important factor, as broken down in the following chart that lists mortality rates by age groups:
This suggests that, for the younger half of the population, unless individuals have significant pre-existing health issues, the risk of COVID-19 is extremely low. Older people clearly have more to be concerned about. All of us have to give some serious thought to our social exposures. All the routines of our lives need reassessment. COVID-19 is here and will radically impact our lives for 12-18 months.
Otherwise, I would like to see practical advice (and I’m making this part up because I haven’t found the advice yet), such as:
Make sure to get plenty of sleep;
Drink plenty of liquids;
Avoid physical and emotional stress (for example, don’t wake up in a world threatened by COVID-19).
Cough into your shirt.
The disease can develop quickly, sometimes taking a person from feeling a bit off to feeling terribly sick in a very short time. So if you’re infected, have a good plan for getting to a hospital, where you may need to be treated with IVs, oxygen, etc.
My other thought about all of this is that we humans need to face our own mortality. We don’t have a cure for everything. We make our plans and we try to control our life circumstances, all of which is fine. But none of us are really in control. COVID-19 is a shocking reminder of this. Some of us are going to die from COVID-19.
I don’t mean that we should be resigned to death, or be fatalistic. All I mean is that we ought to be honest. We need to be prepared to die. Maybe for you all that means is making sure you have a good will prepared. My best advice is that you prepare to meet your Maker. That could be a miserable event or it could be the happiest event of your life. Make it happy is my advice.