There’s one thing we can still do to beat the coronavirus.
Hi everyone, I’m going to do something a bit unusual today and, instead of discussing crypto news, I’m going to talk about coronavirus and what you can do. Humanity faces the gravest imminent danger I’ve seen in my lifetime from coronavirus —climate change being the gravest, slow-moving danger. As much as you and I are obsessed with and love crypto, our families and friends are even more important to us. While it’s obviously off my beat and off the topic of the show to cover this, the threat is so large that I realized I would regret not using this platform, however small, to try to help out and bend the trajectory of the virus here in the US given our bad start in our fight against it. Just to establish my credentials, since some of you may not know this, I did my master’s in science journalism and have covered science before. Hopefully these tips will be helpful to you and your loved ones.
This is slightly more US-focused, but since I believe many of my readers are either in the US or in countries undergoing a similar situation with the coronavirus, I believe information here and these tips will be broadly applicable.
The first thing is, there’s no need to panic. Panic is the absolute worst thing you can do in a situation like this. What you should do instead is take care of yourself first, sort of like putting the mask over your face first. During what will likely be a stressful time, make sure to do one relaxing thing a day — whether that’s exercise or meditation or a nap or a bath, just whatever will help keep you in a level-headed state. Then, calmly, rationally, seek out knowledge from reliable sources. I will be referencing some articles and links for people to read and follow. Armed with knowledge, you can make smart decisions, help others do so as well, and collectively, we can all do our part to help the virus have as minimal impact as possible.
Second, it’s really important to take care of your own body and health during this time. This boosts your immune system, making you less susceptible to any health issue, which helps reduce what is likely to be a big burden on the health care system in the coming months. It also gives you a clearer head with which to make better decisions when you are faced with tough choices. And additionally, it keeps you available to help our neighbors, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, immuno-compromised friends and family, and anyone who might need it. Our doctors, nurses and health care practitioners are going to have their hands full. If we keep our bodies in good shape, we can be assist others in this interconnected web in which we live.
OK, now we’re going to get into the nitty-gritty. At the moment, unless something major changes, the US is going to have to fight this battle pretty much blindly from a data standpoint. We are so far behind where we need to be with testing that, I believe, we no longer have time to catch up. A few weeks ago, I did have hope that if we could ramp up quickly, we could still pursue a strategy of containment, but I believe that window has closed. Also, it appears the chemicals used in the tests are in short supply, so between the lack of test kits, the tight supply in chemical reagents and even the lack of capacity of labs to do testing on the scale needed, I don’t think aggressive testing is a viable solution anymore. From the example of the Koreans, however, I would say we hopefully now know that that would be the best strategy for future viruses. I would love it if by some miracle this situation with the US testing changes but even if it does, I don’t think we have the time to do all the tests and contain this. The virus is already brewing in a big way, and we’re going to see the effects of the current spread sometime soon, as there’s a lag between infection and illness.
But, not all hope is lost. We still have another data point that can help us, which is what I believe is the number-one most important metric to focus on, the guideline to use when making all our choices from now on. As far as I can tell, what determines whether or not a society suffers tremendously from the coronavirus or minimally is how burdened our health care systems become. I got into a little tiff on Facebook the other day with someone who was quibbling about the “true” case fatality rate. People: there is no “true” case fatality rate that exists in some ideal bubble. The case fatality rate will vary from city to city, state to state, country to country, and what determines that number is whether or not the health care system gets overwhelmed. This is why you keep seeing those graphs about flattening the curve, trying to keep it, like we’re all playing a collective game of limbo, below that ghostly dotted line. What is that line? The capacity of your local health care system. And here’s the deal: because case fatality rate is determined by whether or not we cross that line, YOU, you, all of us, we collectively are the ones who determine the case fatality rate. Literally every choice we make pushes that number up or down. We can take control of this virus by our collective actions and decisions.
Now, back to that dotted line. The unfortunate thing is, in the US, our dotted line, or dotted lines, as this really goes state by state, is lower than in other places. First, not everyone in our population is insured. So we will already have many more people getting sick from the coronavirus but not getting tested and therefore spreading it to others. Second, even the insured may have financial reasons not to get tested, with the same result. Just before recording this, House Rep. Katie Porter did secure a promise from the director of the CDC, Dr. Robert Redfield, that he will authorize free coronavirus testing for all Americans. I hope that he follows through. But as I mentioned, I’m not sure how much that will help us now. Third, our doctors and nurses and other health care practitioners lack protective gear. Unfortunately, a Washington Post article from Tuesday said that the national stockpile had not been replenished since 2009. “The Department of Health and Human Services said last week that the stockpile has about 12 million N95 respirators and 30 million surgical masks —a scant 1 percent of the estimated 3.5 billion masks the nation would need in a severe pandemic. Another 5 million N95 masks in the stockpile are expired.” This means that we may see a larger percentage of our health care workers fall ill and have to be quarantined, so the number of doctors, nurses, etc., that we have to take care of those who do fall ill will likely not stay at current head counts. This is also why I do urge people not to hoard face masks and to leave them for our health care workers. There is a shortage in supply due to manufacturing and supply chains being interrupted in China. Obviously, if you become sick with coronavirus, you absolutely should wear a mask. But until then, you have other means to protect yourself, whereas our health care workers do not. And they are one of our most important lines of defense against the virus. If you or any of your loved ones does catch the virus, or has any other health issue in the coming months, wouldn’t you rather deal with a doctor or nurse who had as many masks as they needed at their disposal?
The other thing to understand about how crucial this “health care system capacity“ line is and how quickly coronavirus can overtake it is that the health care system in Lombardy, where the Italian coronavirus outbreak, began has a rating from the OECD of 9.9/10. 9.9 out of 10. That’s like the Simone Biles of health care systems. I will put a link to this in the show notes, but I checked around for how various US states stack up, and nowhere in the states I checked comes even close to a 9.9. New York is at a 6.8, California, 7.1, Illinois, 5.0, Texas, a 4.8, Washington State, where they’ve seen the earliest outbreak in the US, 6.1. And Washington, D.C., a 2.0. Mississippi is a 0.6. Our health system capacity in the US is much, much lower than Lombardy’s for all the reasons I laid out above. We have much less margin for error, which leads me to my next point.
Despite all these ways in which we’re off to a bad start in this race, this is still something we can do to fight this back and make sure the coronavirus has a minimal impact on our society. In any way you can, in every way you can, start social distancing. And because we have basically run out of time, start NOW. This power lies in your hands. Any time you have a choice about whether or not to go out, stay home. We individually have the power to bend that curve downward, to a level that will not overwhelm our hospitals and front line health care workers. The sad fact of the matter is that here, in the US, our leaders have failed us. Miserably. But now is not the time to focus on that. We citizens are smarter and more capable than they are, and we, by our actions, can take control and fight back this virus. And the answer to that is simple: Stay in, and if you are in any position of leadership where you can make that decision for others, absolutely do so and do so as soon as you can.
One note: the cost of staying home will be different for some than others. For this reason, the government should compensate those who take a financial hit for the collective good. If I have any government officials listening to my show, I hope you can see that that cost would be dwarfed by the financial cost of letting the virus ravage as many lives as it would without your intervention. By paying a small price now, you stave off a much bigger and worse price in the future. The coronavirus is here, we will pay a price, and the only question is whether the price will be in human lives or in financial aid.
So, to sum up — don’t despair. Take care of yourself, stay informed, and do your best to help out our front lines — the doctors, nurses and other health care workers who will take care of our friends, family and ourselves if we fall sick or need to go to the hospital for any reason during this time. This is the most important thing we can do right now, to keep the coronavirus from being as big a tragedy as it has been in Wuhan or Italy. We can do our best now to bend the curve to be more like Korea’s or Taiwan’s. Though our leaders have failed us, we have the power in our hands. Make the right choice: any time you have a choice, stay in. If we beat this back, we can all go celebrate afterward.
I’m going to leave you with a final word, which are some selections from a great essay in Newsweek by a doctor in Western Europe titled “Young and Unafraid of the Coronavirus Pandemic? Good for You. Now Stop Killing Other People.“ She starts by saying that in Italy, they kept schools open, kept going to the office and traveling. Then she says, “Fast-forward two months, and we are drowning. … Here’s how it looks in practice. Most of my childhood friends are now doctors working in north Italy. In Milan, in Bergamo, in Padua, they are having to choose between intubating a 40-year-old with two kids, a 40-year old who is fit and healthy with no co-morbidities, and a 60-year-old with high blood pressure, because they don’t have enough beds. In the hallway, meanwhile, there are another 15 people waiting who are already hardly breathing and need oxygen.”
”The army is trying to bring some of them to other regions with helicopters but it’s not enough: the flow is just too much, too many people are getting sick at the same time.”
Then she says:
“Until we’re past the peak, the only solution is to impose social restrictions.
And if your government is hesitating, these restrictions are up to you. Stay put. Do not travel. Cancel that family reunion, the promotion party and the big night out. This really sucks, but these are special times. Don’t take risks. Do not go to places where you are more than 20 people in the same room. It’s not safe and it’s not worth it.”
I urge you to read the entire essay. I’ve linked to it in the show notes. Stay healthy, everyone, stay in, let’s all work together for our collective good.
Good coronavirus resources + references from my essay
- CoronaDaily newsletter
- Flatten the Curve newsletter
- Flatten the Curve website
- A16z coronavirus resources
- Naval Ravikant’s coronavirus Twitter list
- The New York Times coronavirus coverage
- Coronavirus dashboard
- Why the US has catastrophically failed at testing
- More on the delays in US testing
- Our abysmal lack of testing in one easy-to-see chart
- A chart of total coronavirus testing in the US put together by Danny Yang of Blockseer
- Why delays in testing have been so dangerous
- Shortage of chemicals needed for tests
- Our shortage of masks
- The admirable early, aggressive testing model of South Korea
- The sobering lessons of Italy and the choices doctors have to make when capacity has been reached
- Why doctors in Italy feel like they are at war
- What nurses and doctors face in the current outbreak in Seattle
- Rep. Katie Porter getting CDC director Robert Redfield to promise free coronavirus testing for all Americans
- OECD health care system ratings
- The numbers on ICU beds in the US and why, if we don’t flatten the curve, our system could be overwhelmed
- What we can do as citizens to flatten the curve since our leadership has failed us
- Why preparing for coronavirus is our civic duty
- Why we should cancel everything — NOW
- The experience of one man who had a bad case of coronavirus
- Newsweek essay