Coronavirus - 
Numbers Driving the Crisis

Schools are closed. Sporting events are canceled. Restaurants and bars are closed. The stock market is cratering.

Coronavirus March 2020. An event we'll remember the same way we remember September 11, 2000 and the 2008 financial crash.

As I am writing this note, the total known world-wide coronavirus or COVID-19 cases is 200,000, with 8,000 deaths. In comparison, in the U.S. alone, annual flu cases are about 50 million and deaths are 50,000. These numbers suggest flu is a much bigger health risk than coronavirus. But our response to coronavirus is to shut down our social and business life. Image: an empty Metro station in Washington, DC.

What is the reason for this extreme response?

The best reporting, by far, I have seen on the risk posed by the coronavirus is by Tomas Pueyo. The numbers reported in the press of known cases are far lower than actual infection rates and hugely misleading. Pueyo reports the historical data in China, the US, Italy, Iran, and other countries showing the low initial number of known infections and the actual infections over the full cycle of the disease.

China did not understand the implications of the early coronavirus cases in the city of Wuhan and did not respond until infection rates were widespread. Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong took lessons from the SARS virus and responded to the first cases of coronavirus, thereby limiting its spread to the general population.

Take a few minutes and read Pueyo’s report HERE. You will better understand the risk we are facing, the time urgency of our response, and the implications of different responses.

The coronavirus threat is real. The number of infections today is much larger than reported. Breaking the chain of person to person transmission is the goal of the draconian limitations to our daily lives. The best public, business, and private response is still not clear.

We are in an era of media hype and political pandering and posturing when too much and too little will be done. My hope is that by design or chance enough of the right things will be done to limit the disease in every part of the world and quickly bring our lives back to some level of normalcy.

Be careful and be safe.

Post your comments on this blog below. Enrich our community’s discussion of these topics by sharing your experiences and your point of view.

Beauty and Danger – Two Elements of Nature

At a time when our human species is threatened by another living species (a virus) and when we are fearful, this photograph helps us remember the beauty that nature gives us, alongside the danger.

I found this cactus east of Monterey, CA.

6 comments on “Coronavirus – Numbers Driving the Crisis”

  1. From what I've heard and read, you can get covid-19 more than once. So until an effective treatment and/or vaccine is developed, it will not go away.

  2. Hi Rick, As you know I am not a social media respondent, but this time I have to make an exception. your write up is one of the more rational I have seen in months. I am a virologist (you probably don't know this) and I am concerned about the irresponsible behavior of my colleagues. Be well.

  3. Great blog with some terrific information. It just brings to the fore, the enormous struggle of 2 crucial imperatives: 1) the medical crisis to our hospitals and our front line medical responders and 2) the developing economic crisis, which could be far more damaging, long term to our society. From where I sit, it does not do any of us any good if we focus upon one imperative and ignore the other. This has to be a balanced approach. I am heartened to observe the % of fatalities to confirmed cases continues to go down from what was over to 3% to less than 1%. Still very high compared to the flu, but it is at least going in the right direction at this point. I feel Gov Baker's approach has been very balanced, thoughtful and hopefully successful as we enter the second week of what is for all intents and purposes a shut down of how our society operates and what we have all thought was normal over say, the last 200 - 250 years.

  4. Hi Rick - thanks for 'curating' pandemic information. Too much noise on what is real and what is not. Need better care @home options in general, but even more so in times of pandemics. Otherwise, people will panic and flood care facilities, which is exactly opposite of what experts advise and hence the "flatten the curve" plea.

  5. Mr Pueya's analysis is really a thing of beauty.

    This kind of mathematical modeling - working backwards from the things you CAN measure to estimate the real underlying phenomenon that you can't measure -- is pretty standard. NASA began developing these techniques in the late 1950s and early 1960s. NASA needed to know precisely where a vehicle was, even though all they had was a bunch of imprecise measurements of location, speed, acceleration. NASA learned the math to combine a lot of imprecise measurements to yield a precise estimate.

    Nowadays, this kind of mathematical estimation is used for lots of stuff -- everything from your GPS knowing when to tell you to make a turn even though you're still 100 feet from the intersection, to estimating what an advertiser should bid to place an ad based on what real people have done in the past with similar ads.

    This looks a little mathematically intimidating, but it's pretty standard stuff in today's world.

  6. Dear Rick,

    Just a minor correction. A virus is not alive. It's a group of molecules that can get inside living cells, take over the cells' protein production to make many copies of the virus then release those copies to repeat the process in other cells.

    The latest coronavirus also has lung cells manufacture a glassy substance that interferes with their ability to transfer oxygen from the alveoli into the bloodstream thereby causing death. With its long asymptomatic incubation period the virus stays ahead of its dead hosts as it infects more and more people. When all humans on this planet are dead the virus will remain in the bodies of bats, ready to infect the next species that kills and eats raw bats.


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