Way off topic, but it's my blog. Completely unedited ramblings follow.
It seems like very few people are taking the coronavirus seriously. The average person is dismissive of the whole thing. They are being told that the virus is not much more deadly than the flu.
A recent study showed that COVID-19 is like a cross between AIDS and SARS that can leave lasting damage to the lungs. This isn’t the flu, it isn’t a cold. This is a very serious virus that can put people of all ages into a critical respiratory crisis (pneumonia) and has 1-3.4% fatality rate (and we still don’t know how deadly it is). Estimates have ranges as high as 70-80% of the entire world population being affected.
The virus can mutate as many of them do. Will its final form be milder or much more deadly? The 1918 “Spanish” flu mutated, and in the second wave of deaths, young adults were literally dropping dead in the streets as cytokine storms (basically an overreaction of the immune system) killed them. MERS kills about 30-40% of its victims. Some studies are looking into the presence of COVID-19 in the neurological system and possibly causing encephalitis. An encephalitic respiratory disease will kill you like Gweneth Paltrow in Contagion.
We’re not planning properly for the disease to spread through the population. Health officials are saying: “There is no community spread.”
A statement like this is reckless because authorities don’t know if community spread is happening because it happens covertly. Community spread could be happening and I would speculate probably it is happening here unseen. There could be many mild cases, dismissed as a cold or flu, going around until it affects someone seriously or they present at a hospital and are tested.
Community spread is only detected when investigation tracks the person down, determines they had no known tie to a hot-spot (China, Italy, Iran or one of the cruise ships) and the investigators run out of leads. That means that, for instance, someone who was affected interacted with a TSA agent, who bought a soda from a 7-11 and infected the clerk, then the clerk infected the community spread patient. Since the chain of infection is essentially random, it’s called community spread.
So let’s take the traveler out of the equation. How many other TSA agents and travelers does the TSA agent infect? How many people does the 7-11 clerk infect? The final guy in the chain might just infect his family, but what if his kid takes the virus to school?
Both the Las Vegas and Reno patient have relatives in local schools. Hufftaker Elementary in Reno is shutting down for a day because of an increase in children with flu-like symptoms. Let’s hope it’s just influenza. If it’s not, a disease with an incubation time of up to 28 days, all while being transmissible, one day off and cleaning isn’t enough. Asymptomatic kids come back to school and infect healthy kids. That virus then goes home and we all know how parents with kids get whatever is floating around the school all the time.
Yet it is a drastic move to shut down the school for a month. The district will lose funding, parents will have to make child care arrangements, and the school year may have to be extended. No one wants to be the one to pull the fire alarm. In any brooding disaster, there is a broad gray area between acceptable early action and drastic, necessary action. Fallible humans in government and in the public at large are susceptible to believing the best-case scenario and minimizing danger as a psychological mechanism so as not to go crazy.
In any level of discourse, there is a certain amount of information and ideas that are considered acceptable. If you go too drastic too soon, you’re chicken little crying “the sky is falling.” Too late and you have the Hurricane Katrina response.
Inevitably, the appropriate response to head off a disaster never seems to happen in a society like ours. A part of the problem is magical thinking--“It can’t be that bad. Everything will be fine”--or flat-out wishful thinking. Many people will not take prudent precautions until they must, like waiting to run away from the ocean until the tsunami is racing through town.
Add in other considerations to the basic delusional mechanism of the human psyche and you’ve got a soup sandwich. President Trump tells people everything is fine and dismisses the danger because if he says it’s gonna be ugly, average citizens will panic and the stock market will tank even worse. Our economy is in such a precarious place, despite the so-called recovery, that we face a serious recession.
To stop the virus in its tracks, we need major quarantines. We are probably already past the point where we can shut down major hubs of infection, like the Seattle area, and track down infected people. Cutting off Seattle, stopping airline flights into SEA-TAC, and making everyone stay home for 2-4 weeks would be deemed as an overreaction and possibly un-American. But it would greatly slow or curtail the spread of the virus.
On a national scale, a total-shut down of airline traffic would help halt the spread. Schools would need to close and every business that can should send its employees home. A month of people isolated from each other would probably stop the spread. In the meantime, tests could be developed and epidemiological protocols could be instituted to track down and stop new cases. We would have a rough month, but the spread would stop.
Instead, we will do nothing. Quarantines and closures will wait until too late. No one wants to crater the American economy and freak people out until there is no other option. Rampant community spread and high numbers of deaths in every state will be required before an emergency is declared. Only then, when it is too late to do anything, will we start to properly isolate.
China went ugly early and mandated draconian isolation. Now America can do the same thing, but not be so crazy. Since we live in a free county, the virus will still spread, but harsh measures will keep it somewhat controllable. We won’t do that.
An office won’t close until the first employee is diagnosed; maybe after a week or two of infecting people in the office. Who do those people take the virus to? How big to the numbers get?
Things will get ugly. If the virus is rampant, expect the impact on tourism to be huge. People won’t travel to Vegas. Casinos will layoff staff. Restaurants and tourist businesses will close (and may not re-open). If 30% of our employment is related to tourism, the ripple effects of layoffs and no paychecks will hurt other local businesses. Small businesses may close because their customers can’t afford their goods or services, hurting people who don’t work in tourism.
So people are sick, out of work, out of money (far too many Americans live paycheck to paycheck) and are desperate. Add in shortages and the situation could get ugly. Right now we’re seeing a run on hand sanitizer, water (why?), and toilet paper. Imagine in a month or two it’s food because trucks aren’t running, the stockboys are sick, or the Smiths’ manager can’t staff a store to open it (and everybody is buying all the canned tuna at once).
I’m not predicting a major grid-down catastrophe. What I see is panic in the stores and empty shelves because people are panicking. That and an increase in crime as financial hardship and sudden poverty makes people who were struggling already desperate and dangerous. Crime and violence may go up.
What I think is most-likely is a worse version of the 1918 flu epidemic. Lots of people got sick and died. Now we have better medicine, but hospitals could be overwhelmed, so if you get critically ill, you may die. For the survivors and unaffected, we have to deal with food and supply shortages and crime. The economic effects are worse and there is no recovery like we saw in the 1920s. A year or two from now, life will be back to normal, but we’ll have a lot more dead people and the economy will be in shambles.
The public being uninformed or ill-informed is understandable. But the government incompetence is inexcusable. The CDC doesn’t have enough tests and screwed up a component of the tests they did ship. This is third-world behavior! Officials are minimizing the the impact, bureaucrats are being incompetent, and we’re going to pay the price.
If this all blows over and becomes nothing more than a virulent seasonal flu epidemic, we’ll be lucky.
Clayton E. Cramer
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