I want to believe that everyone gets it by now, but a friend just pointed out that the chances of getting COVID-19 in the United States are less than the chances of getting struck by lightning. This is what my friends in high school and I would have called, “Unclear on the Concept.” So I will try to do my part for our community–United States community, world community, Wenatchee community–and explain.
Estimates vary widely for lightning strikes, from 1 in 1,222,000 to 1 in 700,000, so for this discussion, we’ll say your chances of getting struck by lightning are roughly one in 750,000. Your chances of getting struck by lightning are not doubling today and tomorrow and again the next day.
But let’s say they did.
If they were doubling, tomorrow you would have a 1 in 375,000 chance of getting struck. I’d still recommend hiking hard on any Fourteener you choose with those odds.
But Tuesday, your chances would be…1 in 187,500. Still not nervous.
Wednesday? 1 in 93,750.
I know you see where this is going, unless you don’t.
Thursday, stormy weather or no, 1 in 46,875. Friday, 23,437.5. Hmm.
Saturday? Next Saturday? One in 11,718.75. Still not as high as the risk of developing diabetes or getting cancer.
But in two weeks, things get grim.
Week two, Sun: 5859.375*
The cases of lightning striking have doubled every day for a mere two weeks, and now you’re looking at a 1 in 92 chance. From here the math gets easy. I’m dropping decimals.
Sunday: 1 in 46 (45.7763671875)
Monday: 1 in 23 (22.88818359375)
Tuesday: 1 in 11 or 12 (11.444091796875)
Wednesday: 1 in 5 or 6 (5.7220458984375)
Thursday? Yeah, 1 in 2 or 3 (2.86102294921875)
Friday? One in 1.43051147460938–yes, the decimals came back. Math.
How about three Saturdays from now?
0.71525573730469 You understand? In twenty-one days, by simple math, you’d have a one in one chance of being struck by lightning.**
You’re not going to get struck by lightning. I don’t have enough readers for the odds of that to concern me. 1 in 750,000. But, as of today, the cases of identified COVID-19 are doubling in the US every 3 to 5 days. We’re not testing very many people. Most people cannot get tests. You can walk around with COVID-19 symptom-free, but it’s still spreading from you to others. That means a whole bunch more people have it than we yet realize.
Now consider: if the doubling rate of the novel cororavirus pandemic is every 3 to 5 days, you can simply adjust my example from weeks to months. In month one, not a terribly high risk. In month two, it starts to feel like a real possibility. In month three, if the doubling is allowed to continue undisrupted, everyone has it.
We know it spreads like this because we’ve seen it multiply in Wuhan, China and in Florence, Italy. Now we can watch it happen in Spain.
I wasn’t great at math. Okay, that’s being really generous. I was awful at math and suffered math anxiety. But I get this. It’s one of those riddles you tell to surprise your friends. It’s depicted brilliantly in The King’s Chessboard by David Birch.
It’s just math. No, it’s math and science. Math is we know how doubling works. Science is we have observed the novel coronavirus and know it spreads like this when people are in close contact. We know we don’t–yet–have a vaccine to prevent people from contracting it. We will. But not in twenty-one days nor in three months.
I don’t enjoy talking about this, but we’re living in a moment where denial and avoiding hard truth has become too costly. We have 330 million people in the United States. If we let everyone get exposed, and the mortality rate of COVID-19 really is one percent–not a certain scientific fact, they’re still learning, but that is the early estimate–3,300,000 would die from this virus.
We can’t make anyone immune yet. We can prevent people from getting the virus by avoiding exposure. Our health experts, our epidemiologists, our Center for Disease Control, tell us how to avoid exposure.
Disneyland believed them. All the major sports leagues believed them. Universities and school districts believed them.
Trust me, I’m a person inclined to say, “Screw you, I’ll do it my way” as much as anyone. I’ve done some pretty serious damage to myself by acting on that inclination. I can’t even claim I’ve learned not to, I’ve merely learned to notice when I’m thinking it, and then I have to debate myself.
I’m an extrovert. I’m not thrilled by “social isolation.” I’m not the introvert for whom this is a dream come true (bless all of you, curled up with your coffee or tea; I raise my cup to you). I’m also in fine health. I have a resting heart rate of 60. I have healthy lungs. No bragging, recognizing that I am not in danger here; I am the danger here.
Even if I get “struck by lightning,” I’m more than likely to recover.*** But a large segment of our population, including some of the people dearest to me in the world, are not. The COVID-19 mortality rate for those in this “at risk” segment is closer to 4%. We must stop acting as if our individual chances of surviving COVID-19 are the point. We have a chance to love our neighbors by putting their health and safety first. We have a chance to love the most vulnerable, those treated as least in our society. Please stop listening to arguments that the odds are low you will get this virus. They are high and increasingly exponentially. Listen to the CDC and WHO. Believe the real information the qualified experts have provided.
It’s not lightning strikes. It’s contagious. We’re called to do the math and love our neighbors, now.
I was going to end the post here, but now I need to add this. My friend’s wife works in a hospital in the greater Seattle area. He passed along this description, in three separate messages:
My wife hasn’t gotten sick and she’s right in the middle of it. 14 hours a day at the hospital six days a week and on the phone or computer the other 10. She gets a nap in once in a while but the hospital calls all through the night like she’s the only person that can solve anything. The hospital has been a total frenzy. This doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon but it does seem her hospital has been handling it better than most. I’ll leave it at that for now
Thank you Mike. She just walked in the door a couple minutes ago after being sent home working 15 days out of the last 16 being at the hospital 14 hours a day. Then working 10 hours a day at home and sleeping for three but not consecutively. (The sleeping part) I know the math doesn’t add up correctly but if you were here it would.
This is kicking our area’s butt, I have pneumonia for the last three weeks finally getting better but very slow progress. Both grandkids have influenza A, my elder bounced back pretty quickly since she got the flu shot but my younger is only six months old so he never got a flu shot and has been battling it hard for a month now. In the last few days he seems to have taken a turn for the better and might finally be out of the woods.
Forgot to add in my wife’s hours she watches the kids for three hours a day too because she can’t miss grandma time. She’s actually a pretty amazing person I couldn’t come close to what she does. My son is working in the ER dealing with all the stuff involved with the job times ten. Leave it at that and hoping for the areas that don’t have it like here that it stays that way.
The amount of hours she puts in is still not the eye opening statistic that people need to know it’s the procedures and lack of Rooms, equipment, guide lines the government changes multiple times a day that are the road blocks that causes the chaos. Shocking news that people may not know is now they are not allowed to do CPR on corona virus patients if they need it because they think it will spew droplets in the air, they are required to let them die. Has nothing to do with a DNR you could be 30 years old doesn’t matter. To talk to someone in the middle of it is what really brings it home.
I think we all need to read this because staying home, feeling restless, not playing ultimate, we might convince ourselves it’s not that big a threat. “What are the odds it will kill me if I go out, really?”
It’s not lightning. It’s a highly contagious virus that will overwhelm our healthcare providers and facilities unless we help prevent that by keeping it from spreading.
[NOTE: My friend Wayne Delia helped me write this by checking my math, giving me feedback on the analogy, and adding his two cents, which you see quoted in the first two footnotes. Wayne is in the high risk category and exactly whom I’m talking about near the end of the post. I need to be absolutely clear, I’m not trying to criticize or belittle anyone who thinks differently about it. But this is urgent.]
*”Obviously, “week two” would be approximately changed to “month two” since the number of coronavirus cases doubles approximately once every four days, so multiply the number of days by 4. Thus, “week one” gets mapped to 28 days, which is approximately “month one.” Same with “week three” being mapped to “month three.” I feel this elongated frequency of lightning strikes gives a more accurate modeling of the pandemic spread.” –Wayne
**”While the CDC news conference today indicates that the pandemic period is going to be quite long (about a year and a half), the possibility of re-infection over multiple times was raised. I suppose this corresponds to the analogous possibility of a person being struck by lightning multiple times. There is also a ‘plateau effect’ that levels out the exponential curve toward the far right side (as time increases). For example, you could calculate the number of US citizens being infected after X years as being Y billion people, which doesn’t apply because the US has only about 1/3 billion citizens. “
*** Younger people are also dying from COVID-19. This is simply one aspect of the disease we do not yet understand.