I got some pushback on my last post from a good friend. A good friend who deserved a thorough, thoughtful response. Here it is, names changed to protect the innocent.
First, the WHO for death rate: Globally, as of 5:51pm CEST, 30 August 2021, there have been 216,303,376 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 4,498,451 deaths.
What I hear in your email is anger and frustration. Politically there is plenty to be angry and frustrated about. The introduction of a novel virus to the human ecosystem, however, is a biological reality. What specifically happens next – including any political implications – is up for debate.
Getting into the hows and whys of the failures of political leadership would, of course, be opening a political conversation. But without touching politics, I believe we can agree on some facts of the reality we both observed: China’s initial reaction to the outbreak was clouded by secrecy. The US’s initial response was clouded by denial. Neither of these political choices served to further a coordinated, transparent, scientifically-led global response. Alas, our world is run by politicians through whom the very limited, ever-evolving scientific realities were filtered as we figured them out in real time. So from that perspective, I wholeheartedly agree with you. The politics around this have been infuriating and embarrassing.
Some truths, however, are not up for debate. A virus will replicate exponentially.
Though, we can make an effort to slow the spread. (I don’t believe it is realistic to stop the spread entirely.)
Smallpox is the exception that proves the rule.
I don’t know what goal you think we’re chasing. Really, I don’t know. But I do know what goal we are chasing as a society, even as poorly communicated as it has been. It’s not elimination of COVID-19, that’s for sure. Remember the early days when the catchphrase was “flatten the curve”? I think that was the best messaging we have gotten this whole time. Short, visual, to the point, achievable.
The fact is, we’re all gonna get COVID. Ever had the flu? Me too. Do you get your annual flu shot? Nevermind, doesn’t matter. Annual flu shots are a holdover from the 1918 Spanish Flu. This isn’t going away. Anyone who says otherwise is writing science fiction.
So what are we trying to do?
Slow down the rate of saturation, because a portion of patients incur a heavy duty cost on the healthcare system. Thus, the goal is to prevent the collapse of the healthcare system (and in a really dramatic case, the subsequent collapse of society). If we could avoid killing some of our older relatives along the way, that’d be nice too (but it really is just a side benefit).
How long will a simple power-of-2 exponential growth take to go from Patient Zero to the World Population?
I’ll save you the calculator time. 44 days gets you to 8.8 billion. The world sits at 7.7 billion, so around 6:00 am on Day 43.
But if we’re coming up on two whole years of this, why hasn’t the healthcare system collapsed already? Because the steps we took worked. Those steps included lockdowns, work & school from home, travel restriction, masking – all mechanisms of increasing the literal air-gap between our human biomes (and reducing global churn via air travel). We reduced the transmission rate to below a factor of 1 (cases decreasing). Whether these were the best, or even the right, steps to take will be debated beyond our lifetimes. The scientific evidence that it slowed the exponential growth of viral transmission, however, is printed in ink that has already dried. Someone not paying attention might look back and ask “What was the big deal? Nothing happened.” Such is the curse of successful preventative measures.
We got a nice summer off; I almost got to have my party; but a look down the upcoming stretch of road is concerning.
On Thursday August 26, Larimer County ICU capacity usage hit 100%. Source. What happens when your wife gets diagnosed this week and by Friday, laying on her back on your living room couch, she struggles to rasp in a half-cup of air? I suffered from severe childhood asthma. I remember feeling lightheaded and not being able to inhale the volume of a sandwich baggie that contained Ventolin, my emergency inhaled stimulant. I experienced a profound humbling when I truly understood I have a single hole to breathe through. Today there are no available ICU beds in the County. Capacity is at 103%. Of course hospitals can and will add capacity – but the resources are finite, especially when considering the humans we ask to care for us, nurses and doctors.
The Delta variant is more transmissible than the original COVID-19 strain, MERS & SARS, Ebola, Common cold, Seasonal flu / 1918 (“Spanish”) flu, and Smallpox. Source, page 14. The rest of that presentation is worth ingesting as well.
I bother sharing that with you because I consider you and I scientifically literate. We know the difference between mean, median, and mode. We remember to separate correlation from causation. We know how to differentiate between credible sources and unsubstantiated claims. We know what it is to set forth a hypothesis, test it, be surprised by an unexpected result and then to face the facts and re-hypothesize. But me? I got a D in Anatomy and Physiology and a C in Stats. What can I say? They’re not my strengths. I am glad they are others’. Which is why I, neither medically- nor statistically-degreed, see it as my obligation to seek out scientific facts as well as guidance from credentialed experts, apply critical thinking, and act in the best interests of my community, our community.
You’re also an independent thinker, Rob, and a good one at that, in my experience. Think about how dumb the average person is. Now remember that half of them are dumber than that. (Source: George Carlin). Just because good-faith media outlets boil the message down to the lowest common denominator, and bad-faith media outlets twist fear-mongering narratives designed to stoke political fervor, and non-media actors flood social media with mind-spinning garbage, and the “general public” doesn’t seem to remember how to participate in a civilized conversation, does not obligate us to participate in that mess.
There are facts. They are not hard to find. Most of them aren’t too hard to understand.
The same CDC slidedeck sourced above, states that masking is 40-60% effective at stopping outbound transmission and 20-30% at inbound transmission. These effects occur in series, not parallel, so the total effectiveness using the 50% and 25% means is 62.5% efficacy for each statistical pair of 1 infected / 1 uninfected individuals. All it takes to see for yourself is to walk outside on a cold day. See your breath. Put your mask on, don’t see your breath. Transmission occurs via airborne droplets. Masks stop outbound airborne droplets, with 40-60% effectiveness.
I wear a mask to protect you, and the healthcare system, and society, only 20-30% for me.
By not masking, you are imposing risk on everyone you interact with. You won’t know if you get infected. There’s no pop-up turkey timer. That means you’ll have it and pass it along before your big smart brain can do anything about it. Then you’ll presumably survive a mild case and be blissfully ignorant of whom you may have killed. Unless they turn out to be your close friends and family.
At an individual level, you would be correct that it is your prerogative to assess your own risk and your choice about how to act. However your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose, the Libertarian Principle of Non-Aggression. You are certainly welcome to sit on your couch with your liberty until the mouse-swallowing-the-moon problem has passed. If you’re going to step outside yourself, into our community, you have responsibilities.
I agree with the assertion in the video you sent at 6:22 that totalitarianism is our greatest current existential threat. I’m counting on the other smart people in my community, you Rob, to recognize the difference between truth, disinformation, and ignorance. You will feel my shoulder on your shoulder as we stand against totalitarianism, facism, Trumpism, or whatever mask it dons next.
Wearing a mask to protect your community from a biological threat is not totalitarianism, it is being a good-faith community member.
Like it or not, we are a part of a community.