Coronavirus Curves Considered

Coronavirus Curves Considered

Well, it’s been a while since my last post, but I thought – with all the commotion regarding the coronavirus – it’s time to say something. First, let’s understand that I am not an infectious disease specialist. If you’re looking for data, facts, and the present scientific consensus on the virus, your best source is the CDC. Their scientist are the best in the world and, believe me, there is no vast conspiracy for them to give you a snow job. The words below are simply my take on the situation.

That said, I do want to comment on the plan the US has to deal with the virus, as shown in the figure above. You see two scenarios, one in red where people acquire the infection over a short time period and one in blue where people acquire the infection over a more spread out time period. Couple things to note… One is that the overall area bounded by the two curves is about the same. This means that about the same number of people will be infected, overall, for the two scenarios. Ouch! The other feature is that the height of the peak is lower for the more spread out (blue) curve.

The importance of these two features is worth considering. The only way, short of a vaccine, that the disease will stop spreading is when enough people are exposed, recover, and develop antibodies so they are effectively immune from further infection. This is known as “heard immunity” and is similar for the situation for diseases for which children are vaccinated, like mumps, rubella, and measles. Since most people would be immune, they could not acquire and pass on the infection to a non-immune person. And yes, Virginia, in the case of COVID-19 it does mean that the majority of people would get infected.

The hope is that, by slowing the rate at which people get infected, the number of folks who are seriously ill at any one time (the peak) will be less that the maximum the healthcare system can manage. This is key in terms of the number of deaths expected since intensive intervention – such as putting the extremely sick on respirators – can provide the critical time needed for such patients to engage their immune system thus allowing them to recover. But there are only so many respirators.

Based on what we’ve seen in China and South Korea, and considering the intense efforts being made towards social isolation in the US, I suspect that our country will follow the blue curve more closely than the red curve so that the fatality rate for infected individuals will end up being about 1% and the peak incidence will be somewhere in April (I know I’m really sticking my neck out on that last one!).

What does the corona crisis mean to us as Christians? Some think it portends the end of the world, Armageddon. I don’t think that’s the case. In fact, I think this virus is a call to the world to be diligent in preparing for the possibility of even more lethal global pandemics in the future. To us, as individual believers, we should look at the situation with hopeful eyes. Jesus tells us “Do not let your hearts be troubled” and “Do not worry”. Worrying is a waste of time and eats away at our joy in life. Instead let’s take God’s word seriously, be thankful, brave, and courageous, and live by faith!

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