Happy Friday the 13th! As a Jason, I embrace this day wholeheartedly.
The COVID-19 outbreak is obviously scaring people. We are seeing unprecedented actions being taken to stem the spread of this virus, and misinformation, conflicting information, and a lack of information are rampant. To help understand where we’re currently at with the virus, I found the data and images below very useful. Here are my observations:
Flattening the Curve: Looking at the Flattening the Curve graph below, the US and much of the world in general are on this path. Given that most viruses tend to not like heat and sun and therefore don’t spread as much in summer, coupled with the fact that viruses mutate and tend to weaken as time goes on and societal immunity rates increase, a few weeks of reducing large gatherings and basic hygiene should make a huge difference. This article shows the exponential level of a virus spread and how some countries have avoided explosive growth by taking precautions. The issue is that outbreaks tend to occur in pockets and this can overwhelm the local ICU and health system, making the statistics much worse than they would be otherwise. Flattening the curve can eliminate or reduce these pockets, saving the most vulnerable of lives.
Hype vs. Reality: Looking at the actual death rate, COVID-19 is not an especially severe virus compared to others (based on the known range shown below). What is unusual is the amount of media attention it’s receiving. There have already been 1.1 billion media mentions about COVID-19, about 20 times more than SARS (another strain of coronavirus) received. This dwarfs much more prevalent and deadly diseases like tuberculosis, pneumonia, AIDS, and the flu. I’m not suggesting people shouldn’t take COVID-19 seriously. I certainly don’t want anyone to be even slightly sick. I’m just trying to put into perspective the risk it poses when compared to other viruses.
COVID-19 Likely Much More Widespread Than We Think: Worldwide, and especially in the US, testing is lagging. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) chose not to use the test already available in other countries and to create its own test that tested for more than just the COVID-19 virus. There have been issues with the test and production. A top health official in Ohio estimates 100,000 people have the virus. If I go to the Johns Hopkins tracker for Ohio, they have five confirmed cases listed (test verified) at the time I wrote this blog. This was a severe flu season. It is very likely that a lot of people (maybe some of us) had COVID-19 and did not know it. This is actually good news, as it means more societal immunity and a much lower death rate than the numbers project now.
At Risk: Like all viruses and diseases, those with compromised immune systems are the most at risk. At the time I wrote this, 37 deaths had been attributed to COVID-19 in the US. At least 23 of those deaths were at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington. Excluding the Life Care Center, the mortality rate is 0.8% (close to the 0.7% that China is showing on their most recent patients) and likely much lower because we are so far behind on testing. Exercising caution around elderly family and any family and friends with compromised immune systems is one of the most important steps we can take in the fight against COVID-19.
Perspective – Remember 2009: Roughly a decade ago, the US battled an outbreak of H1N1 (swine flu). So far, the numbers associated with that outbreak are staggering compared to COVID-19. From April 12, 2009 to April 10, 2010, approximately 60.8 million cases (range: 43.3 – 89.3 million), 274,304 hospitalizations (195,086 – 402,719), and 12,469 deaths (8,868 – 18,306) occurred in the US. Yet many people hardly recall that crisis. This is a large country and an even larger world. Numbers that may seem huge in the moment often have less impact than initially seems possible. Try keeping this in mind to help maintain perspective during this stressful time.
The World is Learning What Works: Chloroquine, predominantly used to treat malaria, is shown to have apparent efficacy and acceptable safety against COVID-19 associated pneumonia in Chinese clinical trials. South Korea is treating it with oxygen therapy and chloroquine salt plus zinc treatment to block COVID-19 viral enzymes with dramatic reductions in severity. Doctors are only going to get better at treating this virus – which means lower and lower severity as time goes on.
Sneeze in your arm, wash hands, learn the beautiful and elegant Wai instead of handshaking (or a fist or elbow bump) and enjoy the weekend!
Stay safe, stay strong!