A short article on the necessity of social isolation orders... it's about the spread, not the symptoms

Steve Adams

Just this guy, ya know?
I've been seeing so many comments from people on Twitter (e.g.) about various forms of "shelter in place" orders and why they shouldn't be required that clearly also misunderstand the challenge those orders are meant to help resolve. Since this is too long for Twitter and I don't have a Medium account, I'm going to try to help explain the challenge here.

TL;DR version: The fundamental issue isn't the severity of the illness but controlling the rate of infection.

Some quick terminology:
  • A "coronavirus" is a type of virus given that name because of how it looks; there are several viruses that can be referred to as a coronavirus
  • SARS-CoV-2 is the designator for this particular coronavirus
  • COVID-19 is the name of the illness that the virus causes
The fundamental misconception that I see most when people are complaining about the enforced isolation common in so many places (and so utterly lacking on Florida's beaches for Spring Break, for example), is that the symptoms of COVID-19 are generally pretty mild, so why do we have to bring our society and economy to a screeching halt? The answer to that is partly medical in nature but mostly one of statistics.

While COVID-19 symptoms for the majority of people are no different than for a cold or a mild case of the flu, they can be (as any flu-like illness can be) much more severe for older people and people with various underlying health issues. "Underlying issues" includes obvious things like asthma, but also diseases like diabetes and various heart ailments.

[Aside: Unlike other strains of influenza, COVID-19 doesn't seem to be targeting the very young to the degree it has people 65+. An interesting area of follow-up research, no doubt.]

Now here's where the medical stuff transitions over to numbers...

The first thing to know is that, because it's a "novel" coronavirus, this is the first time it's been introduced to a human population and, therefore, there is no natural or developed immunity to it. Why is that important? Because, basically, if you're exposed to the virus, you're going to get sick.

Second, SARS-CoV-2 is roughly twice as transmissible as the "typical" flu virus, so everyone who is exposed to it is going to pass it along to another THREE PEOPLE (technically, more like 2.8) unless they're isolated, and since COVID-19 symptoms take so long to show up, there's quite a while where you can infect others without knowing you're even a vector for the disease. Over 10 rounds of infection, one person with COVID-19 can infect (on the LOW end) nearly 30,000 people versus only about 14 people with the typical flu virus.

The next set of numbers are 14 and 5: The first is the percentage of people who catch COVID-19 and require medical attention, while the second is the percentage of people who will need critical care (i.e., the ICU). In a US population of roughly 327 million people, for instance, that means nearly 46 million people in the hospital and more than 16 million people in ICUs.

There are roughly 45,000 ICU beds in the entire country. (That's less than 1% of the potential demand.)

We've all heard about "flattening the curve," but what does that mean? Given the transmission numbers I mentioned, along with the slow rate at which symptoms develop and the (for most) mildness of those symptoms, SARS-CoV-2 can spread very widely very quickly. Obviously, all 327 million of us aren't going to get sick at once, but virtually all of us will at some point (there's some nuance in that statement) and so the whole idea is to spread out the rate at which that happens.

Basically, keeping people as isolated as possible for as long as possible helps to slow the spread of the disease to a rate at which the healthcare system can at least attempt to keep up with the demands of those 14% of cases, much less the 5% that require the dramatically larger demands of ICU care.

In short, this disruption to our society and our economy ISN'T about the severity of COVID-19 symptoms so much as it's about keeping our healthcare system from collapsing and the (quite literally) millions of deaths that would follow.

Steve Adams

Just this guy, ya know?
(By the way, I didn't post this here because I think y'all are dim and needed to have it explained so much as I needed to get it off my chest and had nowhere else to put it. Believe me, I'm really, really hoping Conference can figure out a way to get our season started on time.)
Thank you for your virus summary, Steve! I have been doing some Springtime prep on the race car, but I'm not sure at this point if it's getting ready for the 2020 season or 2021