COVID-19: Please do the arithmetic!

At present, the number of coronavirus infected people in the USA appears to be doubling in under 3 days. Since there is insufficient testing capacity, we don’t really know how many people are infected, but we do know that the real number is substantially higher than the reported number. It is only a guess, but it is not an unreasonable guess, to expect that between 10x and 50x more people are actually infected, compared to the number being reported by health agencies. The page summarizing data from the CDC says that at the end of Friday, 20 March 2020, 16,081 people were known to be infected in the US. If that number is multiplied by 10, which is likely a conservative multiplier, then at least 160,000 were actually infected. By Sunday morning, 22 March, that number had risen above 260,000.

Because the Italians failed to heed the warnings of their government and failed to learn from the Chinese, they now have more dead people today than China accumulated over their entire episode, assuming that the reported numbers for both countries are accurate. For the Italians on Friday, 20 March, there were 3,405 dead from among 47,021 known to have been infected. This translated to a mortality of 7.2%, made much worse because they refused to take common sense measures to halt or significantly slow down virus transmission from person to person. If we assume the real mortality among the Italians is about equal to what was experienced in China, then 3405 / 0.034 = 100,147 people in Italy were infected by the end of Friday, 20 March 2020, and they are still experiencing an increase in newly discovered infected people day over day. By Sunday morning, 22 March, the reported number of infected people in Italy was over 53,000, suggesting they may have as many as 530,000 infected people, and their numbers continue to rise.

The trajectory playing out in Italy appears to be very close to the trajectory the US is following, but instead of having 60 million Italians, the USA has over 330 million Americans. If the US continues to follow the infection rate trajectory of Italy, then in less than 2 weeks, there will be at least 550,000 people nationwide infected by this virus. Many will need extensive hospitalization if they are to survive. Nationwide, we have only about 64,000 ventilators in ICU units of hospitals, and in remote, rural places like Clayton, New Mexico, there may be 1 ventilator, if any at all in the rural hospital. If the virus roars through remote, rural communities like Clayton, half of a town’s population may become ill, and probably 10% to 15% will die, partly because they cannot get access to adequate health care. The current closures imposed by many states across the US are all focused on slowing down the rate of new infections, so the hospital system has a chance of handling the onslaught of new cases as they appear. The USA has had weeks to get ready for this explosion of COVID-19 cases, but little was done to prepare for testing 30-50,000 people per day, so we’re basically “flying blind”. To make matters worse, hospitals are running out of protective gear for their front-line doctors, with things like face masks and protective suits in critically short supply.

From China, overall mortality was about 3.4%, but among the elderly, it is about 15%. Many adults of all age groups who contract the virus are really quite ill, even though they survive. This virus is coming to virtually every community and neighborhood in the USA, if it is not already there. Because our ability to test for its presence is so lacking, it is going to overwhelm the medical system like they’ve never before been overwhelmed. Everyone is urged to please take all precautions being recommended to protect yourself: (1.) Wash hands often; (2.) Avoid going out to mingle with others; (3.) Sanitize and disinfect everything within your living space; (4.) Practice social distancing every time you encounter people from outside your household; and (5.) Treat all persons from outside your household as if they are coronavirus infected. Please keep yourself safe and especially, may you be very lucky to avoid becoming infected. In my lifetime, I’ve never experienced anything else as worrisome and outright scary as this is. If I’m unlucky enough that I become infected, I just hope that I’m healthy enough to ward it off. May you remain healthy and safe.