It’s Time to Act

My family and I are making the decision to keep our kids home from school and stay home from work. Why are we doing this? Anything we can do to slow the COVID-19 outbreak can save lives by evening out the demand for healthcare over time. We are fortunate to be in a position to do this — I know others are less able for many reasons. But I’m posting this because I want to help remove the stigma of taking action for those who are able.

From Carl Bergstrom, Biology Professor at the University of Washington

During the 1918 flu epidemic, St Louis took decisive action two days after the first identified case, enacting “a broad series of measures designed to promote social distancing.” Philadelphia delayed action for 16 days, just two weeks longer than St. Louis. Here is what the death toll from Pneumonia & Influenza (P&I) looked like for the two cities:

We need to be more like St. Louis and less like Philadelphia.

We need to do what St. Louis did. Given how quickly the virus is spreading (look at recent news from Italy and Iran), if we wait until the problem is in our faces, we might already be in grave danger. Those who are able need to act now to protect those who are most vulnerable to this virus.

I have been asking myself why otherwise smart and well-informed people are not taking this pandemic as seriously as I think the situation merits. Here are my theories:

  1. The situation seems to fit a common “smart person” mental model, namely: “Most people are worried about X, but Y is much more common and you don’t see them worrying about Y! People can be so irrational!”
  2. Social media — in particular Twitter — has the reputation for being overly socially corrosive and filled with misinformation, but has in fact been the best source of high-quality information on COVID-19.
  3. We in the U.S. have not experienced such a contagious and lethal viral outbreak in living memory.
  4. Many of us have lived through weather events where people buy up all of the milk and bread in the grocery store, which seems silly.
  5. We think of disaster preparation as a bizarre, paranoid subculture (an opinion seemingly validated by #3 above).
  6. We are living in a Soviet-style lockdown of public information, which combined with a woeful lack of testing leaves us ill-equipped to fully understand how widespread the disease may be already. For example, Politico reports that:

The CDC has stopped detailing how many people in the country have been tested for the virus, and its online dashboard is running well behind the number of U.S. cases tracked by Johns Hopkins and even lags the European Union’s own estimate of U.S. cases.

Meanwhile, stories like this are becoming more common, indicating the virus may already be raging quietly though the U.S.:

from Twitter

I personally know someone in Austin that recently returned from Europe and got very sick with a fever and severe cough (telltale symptoms of COVID-19), tested negative for flu, developed pneumonia, but was also refused a COVID-19 test.

I’ll leave my last few thoughts to a thoughtful Twitter thread:

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