Views expressed in this blog are mine alone and are not intended to represent Williamson County policy nor intended as legal advice.
The first thing I want to say is – DON’T PANIC.
Be concerned. Be vigilant. But don’t panic.
The thing to understand about this virus is this:
• It looks enough like the flu and other respiratory diseases that you may not even know you have it.
• Therefore, the best way to protect yourself is to follow the basic precautions that you’ve all heard – wash your hands frequently, disinfect surfaces, cough into your elbow and practice social distancing.
• Confirmed cases are not the same thing as true cases – many more people have the virus than we know, some of them showing little to no symptoms.
• People over 65 and anyone with a chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, immune diseases, and lung disease are at the highest risk for severe illness and death.
• Nationally as of 3/16, there are cases in 49 states, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and US Virgin Islands.
• If you have come into contact with someone who has tested positive to COVID-19, you should self-quarantine for 14 days.
Staying home whenever possible is going to be key to reducing the impact of this virus. If you can work from home, do so. If you can’t, reduce your contact with groups. Currently, there is a ban on groups over 50 in Wilco. This means any event with more than 50 expected guests should be canceled. This includes weddings, concerts, sports, etc. So far, schools are exempt though many are closing for up to two weeks.
You’ve heard a great deal about flattening the curve lately. What this means is that by staying home as much as possible, you are reducing not only your risk for contracting the disease but other’s risk as well. You could have COVID-19 and not know it. Someone you encounter in public could have it and not show it. By restricting contact with large groups, you protect everyone, including our most at-risk citizens.
The reason we want to do this is simple. Countries that are overwhelmed will have a fatality rate between ~3%-5%. If we overwhelm our medical infrastructure, we can expect a high mortality rate. Countries that act fast can reduce the number of deaths by a factor of ten. And that’s just counting the fatality rate. Acting fast also drastically reduces the cases.
Around 20% of cases require hospitalization, 5% of cases require the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), and around 2.5% require very intensive help, with items such as ventilators or ECMO (extra-corporeal oxygenation). This where we have problems. A few years ago, the US had a total of 250 ECMO machines, for example. Then there are masks - the US has only 1% of the masks it needs to cover the needs of its healthcare workers (12M N95, 30M surgical vs. 3.5B needed). If a lot of cases appear at once, there will be masks for only 2 weeks. The more we postpone cases, the better the healthcare system can function, the lower the mortality rate, and the higher the share of the population that will be vaccinated, once one is developed, before it gets infected. The goal of social distancing is to reduce cases and save lives. It only works as well as people employ it. It is going to be a hardship. Schools closing means parents may have to stay home from work. Small businesses, especially those in the service industry, are going to be hard hit. Our economy both local and national is going to be impacted.
Added to this is the underinsured and uninsured folks in our communities. They can’t afford to get sick. People living paycheck to paycheck, which by some estimates is 80% of the US population, can’t afford to miss work and often don’t have the luxury of working from home.
It’s going to hurt.
But without social distancing and mitigation, we will lose so many more people.
If, as The WHO estimates, between 30% and 70% of the planet becomes infected with this virus, here are some relevant numbers. The US has roughly 331 million residents. 30% of 331 million is 99 million people. If 20% of those need hospitalization that’s 19.9 million. 5% of those 99 million will need ICU beds or 4.95 million beds may be needed.
There are an estimated 97,776 ICU beds in the US.
Slowing the spread of COVID-19 keeps our hospital infrastructure functioning.
Obviously, we’re not going to have 99 million hospitalized people in the US all at once. We may reach that number in total before the end of the pandemic, but the more we can work together to reduce the number of infected, the better chance we have of reducing deaths and reducing the risk of overwhelming our nation’s hospitals.
This is the challenge for all of us.
Stay home, not just for yourself and your family, but for your neighbors, your doctor, your community hospital and everyone who will be impacted. Ultimately, that’s every one of us. We will all be affected by this virus even if we never become ill.