Coronavirus or COVID-19 are terms we had no concept of months ago. Recently, some have made the mistake of saying it’s “just the flu.”
It became a mere whisper of “some people are sick” in China for much of January. In February, it became an “incident” that some more-informed individuals had on their radar, but nothing game-changing. Now, in the month of March, it has become a full-blown pandemic spreading throughout the world with no end in sight.
For those that have been paying attention, this didn’t come as a surprise. Unfortunately, many weren’t paying attention.
“It’s Just the Flu!”
For most, upon hearing that coronavirus and the flu have similar symptoms, it creates an unbreakable bond between the two in their minds. The phrase “it’s just the flu” has been muttered among friends and on social media platforms thousands of times over the last few weeks. Though they may share similar symptoms, that is where the comparison ends, and not for the better.
The mortality rate, at this point, from the World Health Organization sits around 3.4 percent while the seasonal flu is closer to 0.1 percent. In layman’s terms, 1 out of 1,000 will die from the flu. With coronavirus, that number is 34 out of 1,000, on average – so far.
Virus shed (contagion) is also a huge problem with this outbreak.
Individuals with the seasonal flu are contagious, on average, for 4-7 days, all while being symptomatic. With coronavirus, the window of time that an individual is contagious is much larger, beginning while they are still asymptomatic and continuing for around 20 days (with a range of 8-37 days).
Some studies have even shown that individuals are just as contagious while asymptomatic as they are once the virus has made them “sick.” That makes containment very difficult.
Lastly, the R0 (or R-naught), which determines the transmissibility of a virus puts coronavirus as at least double that of the seasonal flu.
Seasonal flu’s R0 is around 1.3 while coronavirus’ R0 has a conservative range of 2-3.5. This is capped by a lack of vaccine or immunity to this virus.
The seasonal flu can be slowed some by vaccine and/or immunity to a certain strain of the virus (due to having it previously). This aids herd immunity here in the United States to some extent. We don’t enjoy any of those benefits with coronavirus.
This is a novel virus with no vaccine currently available, only adding to its seriousness over the seasonal flu. Until there is a vaccine or we reach the saturation threshold for herd immunity (approximately 70-80 percent infected) there will be no stopping the virus, only slowing its spread through our populous.
The Healthcare System’s Juggling Act
Coronavirus isn’t the only piece of this equation that is concerning. The ability of our healthcare system to cope with the guaranteed rise in hospitalized patients probably brings an even bigger risk. Without a vaccine, this will continue to spread for the foreseeable future, that much is certain. However, the real crux of the issue is how quickly people are infected with coronavirus.
It all comes down to timing. If you look at different countries, you see how timing makes a world of difference.
In countries like South Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore, they have not eradicated the virus, but they have been able to slow the spread drastically, allowing their healthcare & supply-chain systems to continue being effective. They have done this by implementing high levels of testing, mandatory quarantine, and the majority of their populous in effected areas wearing masks.
However, the situation in Italy and several European nations where such policies were not implemented is much worse. The healthcare system in northern Italy has been overrun and is struggling to stay afloat working at “200% capacity.”
This has caused the critically ill number and the mortality rate for Italy to rise higher than most countries.
Italy, like many other European countries, was slow to roll out any of these policies and has unfortunately reaped the consequences of that delay.
Could that happen here in the United States? Yes, it could and will if we don’t take actions to flatten the curve of those infected.
Currently, many countries, including the United States are on an exponential growth curve that equates to utter disaster. We must look to flatten out the growth curve of this virus or face a similar fate to European nations. That requires replicating what has worked in pockets around the world.
Look to South Korea and Hong Kong – keeping this contained is possible if measures are taken (and followed).
“So What Do I Do?”
This is difficult to decipher because we’re in uncharted territory.
On one hand we cannot live in fear or despondency. This is not the end of the world. This is not the end of our country. But it is our responsibility as citizens to take this situation seriously.
Schools, sporting events, and group activities are being canceled and that trend will continue. Eventually in certain areas there will be mandatory quarantines or required social distancing. Money and resources may get tight. Life will be uncomfortable.
However, as Americans we must do one very important thing – band together.
We must be willing to bend under the pressure but not break. We must be willing to forego things we very recently took for granted. We must heed health officials and make necessary changes to our social and economic lives as directed. The stability of our nation depends on it.
No government cannot fix this. It will require each and every American to do their part, but together we can defeat this scourge of society and emerge stronger than ever.
May God bless America.