The world has changed drastically in just a few weeks. We began hearing about a virus in China late last year. For months, we were told not to worry. Just a few weeks ago our own government called talk of a pandemic a hoax. Today, the world is closed for business, as we try to stop the wave of Covid-19. The first day of spring of 2020 is a surreal day as bars and restaurants are closed, people fight over toilet paper, and strangers keep a 6′ radius around ourselves when we have to venture out for supplies.
For us who were born after World War II, we’ve never seen anything like it. It sure feels like the end of the world. We’ve never been asked to sacrifice. We’re used to getting what we want when we want it. The last time we had this surreal feeling was immediately after 9/11, almost 19 years ago. Then, we were told to go shop to boost the economy. That was our sacrifice. Most of our parents don’t even remember WWII when people were asked to sacrifice. Over the six years WW II raged on 75-80 million people died. 3% of the world’s population died. But, that was a long time ago and, that war was not fought on our soil. Today, we fight an invisible enemy that any of us could be carrying. It’s scary. It’s OK to be afraid.
There is plenty of bad news, misinformation, things being taken out of context, and fear-mongering But, there is good news. There is a lot of good news about the coronavirus. I want to focus on that. I will provide facts, not speculation. And, I will provide sources.
This won’t be as bad as WW II for the reasons I’m going to give below. But, the world bounced back after World War II, as awful as that was. We will bounce back after this. We don’t know the true mortality rate of this virus. But, we do know that most people who get it won’t require hospitalization. It’ll be like a bad cold or flu. Some won’t even know they have had it. If we did absolutely nothing, most of us would survive it. While this is a novel virus, our bodies are incredibly fine-tuned machines, forged to keep us alive. Our immune systems are miraculous. Most of us will fight this thing off on our own. Trust your body. Wash your hands and practice social distancing so we can slow the spread of this and keep our medical systems working. But, know if you’re exposed, your immune system is a powerful weapon. You are not defenseless.
The measures we are taking to slow the spread of the virus makes it seem worse than it is. Empty streets, shuttered businesses, people fighting over toilet paper, I think these things trigger us to recall Zombie apocalypse movies, The Walking Dead television series, etc. Social distancing is keeping us isolated. Time on our hands is allowing our minds to wander to worst-case scenarios. While this social distancing is absolutely key to “flattening the curve” and keeping our vital medical resources available for those who need them, it has a psychological impact. It also is taking a very real economic toll on all of us. This is the sacrifice we must make to save lives. It will work. It’ll be a rough ride. But, we will get through it.
While our governments were slow to respond. They are responding, decisively. Short term sacrifice for long term gain is a new concept to many of us. But, hang in there. It will keep more of us alive. Now, for the good news:
China was overrun by the virus so quickly that it overwhelmed their normal hospital system. They had to build emergency hospitals for the overflow. In just a few months, they have turned the corner on the number of cases and been able to retire those emergency hospitals. This is great news. It must be tempered by the fact that we are four months behind China in where we are in the propagation of the virus. Our numbers are still climbing and will, for a while. Also, China has a society where the government was able to take Draconian measures. But, China shows it can be done. This virus will not run through us without a challenge.
You might have heard about how bad things are in Italy, as their healthcare system was overwhelmed and they had to take drastic measures. Some have said we are two weeks away from where Italy is today. Italy has had many deaths, much higher than we think the average death rate for this virus is. Why?
Almost twenty-five percent of Italy’s population is over the age of 65. In the United States, it’s closer to 16%. 99% of those who died in Italy had other conditions as well. Almost 75% of those who died had two other illnesses. The median age of those in Italy who have gotten sick is 63. The average age of the people who have died is 79.5.
You might have heard there is no treatment for Coronavirus. A few weeks ago, that was true. All doctors could do was provide support for the patients to get better on their own and assistance with breathing if it got to that point. Doctors in India have used a combination of anti-HIV drugs even on three elderly patients who have fully recovered. Update: This article was written on March 18th. On March 19th, it was announced that an old drug used to treat malaria might be effective to treat Coronavirus 19.
I’m going to avoid being political. But, for a number of reasons, the United States has been slow to test for coronavirus. That’s why we have to assume everyone we see is carrying it, including ourselves. We must socially isolate ourselves from as many people as possible. The initial tests took days to get results and were scarce. While testing is still not to the point where we can all get one, tests are making their way to those who are symptomatic, with a doctor’s referral. Drive through coronavirus testing is popping up all over. With online doctors’ appointments, you can visit your doctor via your phone, get an order for a test, and have someone drive you to a testing facility. Testing will allow us to be smarter in our fight to isolate and weed out the virus.
This article will get dated very quickly anyway. If I give the number of people who have recovered from coronavirus, it’ll be dated tomorrow. It’s already in the tens of thousands, approaching 100,000. Given that we really don’t know how many cases there have been because, at least in the United States, almost exclusively only the most severely ill (hospitalized) have been tested. People are contracting the virus and recovering all the time. As people recover from the virus, they have immunity. I’m going to link to this site with the statistics. But, I suggest you not fixate on it, particularly in these early days. The cases are artificially low so the death rate is artificially high. The rate is the number of known cases, which again are the most severe cases. There will be more deaths among that population. It’ll be a while before we have real numbers on this. A 103-year-old woman in China recovered. A couple in the 80s and 90s both recovered. Covid-19 is not a death sentence.
While we are working on effective treatments (anti-virals) and on a vaccine, an old technique that has fallen out of favor could be deployed. Doctors from Johns Hopkins hospital are promoting this idea. During the 1918 flu pandemic, plasma from recovered patients reduced the death rate by 50% among those treated. This could be a bridge between where we are now and when we find a vaccine or a drug treatment.
We can be cautiously optimistic about having a COVID-19 vaccine in a matter of twelve to eighteen months. While that may seem like an eternity, it’s really not. If we do all of the other things we can do in the meantime, a vaccine in a year to a year and a half would be wonderful. The first person in a phase 1 trial has already received the vaccine in Seattle.
It’s been just 123 days since the first known case of Covid-19. Four months. In that time, we have developed a test for the virus, have found some existing anti-viral drugs that show promise, could revive an old technique to cut the death rate maybe in half, and have started trials on a vaccine. This is lightning-fast speed.