For the umpteenth time, stay home for two weeks. Sure, buy your takeout. Mask and glove up to get your groceries. Take a walk in the fresh air and avoid people. Just stay home otherwise. Otherwise, plan for this.
Why? At a simple level, this reduces the variables. The fewer people that one contacts, the fewer possible vectors of infection, the easier it is to trace contacts, the easier it is to halt the spread of infection.
Here is a good explainer about how “flattening the curve” looks. As time is passing, and because of isolation, the numbers are looking better than the ones the doctor in this video are using. For example, her premises rely on 40-percent infection rate, but of course, they won’t happen all at once. They’ll happen over time. She also assumes a 20-percent critically sick rate, but that, too, is likely too high. Finally, she probably overestimates the number of people who will need ventilators. Still, though, the most generous premises are concerning numbers, and a slowdown of the spread is critical so that the health-care system, government, and companies can catch up to the problem and formulate plans to deal with it.
Katie Porter’s sister, a doctor, is breaking down how staying in can save lives during the COVID-19 crisis pic.twitter.com/9q7MpbpES8
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) March 21, 2020
In addition, since it takes about five days from contact to infection, if one does contract COVID-19, it takes a few days to show, then to get tested, then to quarantine. If everyone takes this time at the same time, and with sufficient testing coming online, cases can be isolated. Most importantly, because the person is already isolated the rate of spread is reduced.
The problem is that people are rebelling after only a couple days of social distancing. Seriously? Americans can’t suck it up for a week or two? Have we become such soft babies that staying home for two weeks is impossible?
This won’t last forever. First, it can’t. People will just rebel and decide death is preferable to staring at their spouse’s face for another day. Second, testing will be in place and it will be easier to figure out quickly who is sick and not harm as many people. Finally, more data will give people solid confidence to reemerge into society.
After two weeks of isolation, then it’s time to decide whom to trust to be around. We all have friends who are risk-takers or who travel all over or who ignore their sniffles and will press on anyway. Might want to let those friendships go. In a world where a virus can land one in the hospital with lung-crushing pain, steering clear of the risk-takers might be worth it.
One acquaintance said to me, “This is going to go on forever. Why should I stop now? This is stupid.”
First, no, it is most certainly not going to go on forever. In some places, where there’s an overwhelming outbreak, people won’t have to be told to stay inside. They’ll have family or friends at the hospital, and they’ll be scared straight and won’t want to interact with people. In most other places, testing will be available everywhere, and so if people practice immaculate hygiene, get tested when feeling ill, and act reasonably, life will get to some semblance of normal rather quickly.
Second, stopping now buys time for the testing to get up to speed. It puts a hard stop on the spread for a couple weeks and buys hospitals and the government time to get on top of efficient responses. This will save lives and resources in the long run.
Quarantine and social distancing works. It is the only surefire response to a disease that has no treatment and puts so many people in the hospital.
Let’s assume that some communities are doing great. What should they do after the two weeks? Here are my recommendations:
The self-isolation won’t last forever. Once testing gets up to snuff and our public health officials have a better handle on the statistics for who is vulnerable, treatment options, care guidelines, and hospital preparedness with both staff and equipment, society will open back up. It won’t take long.
There is a pure, driven motivation to open life back up again not only for the economy but also for individual mental health and survival.
Isolation can’t last forever. The costs of shutting down will outweigh the deaths or health impacts of COVID-19 because people will commit suicide, have delayed diagnoses for other diseases, or plunge into poverty, and more people will die due to the shut-down economy and hospital restrictions than from the virus. Where that balance will be no one knows for sure, and our leaders will have to make their best guesses.
America can self-isolate for two weeks, though. Encourage family members to do this. Check in on grandma and grandpa. Take walks in the fresh air. Enjoy the quieter roads. Find the positive where you can. This too shall pass, and there will be a lot of work to do to build back.
Self-isolate now to save pain in the future.