Monday, March 16, 2020

Framing the Pandemic

At the crux of this situation is a fact I've been unable to integrate into my thinking on all this: influenza kills 640,000 people per year. I had no idea it was so high!

I asked a few friends, "What if COVID-19 wound up killing 640,000 this year?", and they all responded with gasps of horror.

There's a difference. COVID-19 is something like ten times deadlier, and might kill millions, not hundreds of thousands. But, still, I've been trying to reconcile the exponentially heightened alert with the algebraically heightened risk, and I suspect this is what's gnawing at pandemic skeptics.

After rolling it around my head all week, I've come up with a perspective threading the gap between skepticism and alarm. "A centrist's perspective on the pandemic", if you will.

A nasty wave crashes over society each year, barely noticed by the young and healthy, slaughtering multitudes. This yearly culling has been "baked in" as a fact of life, horrific though that sounds.

And this is simply a bigger wave.

It is not a tsunami - some distinct and more deadly phenomenon poised to drag the citizenry down into murky depths. It's not qualitatively different from the standard wave. It's just an extra bad one. The usual demographic (oldsters and immune-compromised) will be disproportionately affected, and the usual mechanism (pneumonia) will be their undoing. Again: the usual thing...only worse.

But while "worse" - especially ten times worse - is obviously an unhappy prospect, it's more perilous than it sounds because the healthcare system is built to handle only the normal wave. The peak of flu season peaks our hospital capacity. Tentuple that peak, and kaboom goes the healthcare system, potentially disrupting even non-pandemic response, e.g. heart attacks, strokes, etc. - the full range of medical services.

We're not screwed because some ferocious killer virus is poised to kill. We're screwed because this is the normal thing but worse, and we can't handle the fallout (no government can afford to build out infrastructure to accommodate once-per-century edge-case perils).

There is no new information above. But conceiving it this way - not as a tsunami, but simply more wave than we can handle - clarifies things, at least for me. It's much less "we're-all-gonna-die" and more "we-must-level-this-curve-to-spread-out-infection-over-time-so-it-doesn't-clump-and-overwhelm-our-ability-to-respond".

The skeptics - who don't understand the danger of an overwhelmed healthcare system - are doing us no favors. But neither should we be alarmed. We must take extraordinary measures in a relaxed and blasé fashion, though humans simply aren't built for that.


Unknown said...

The lily pad analogy stated here is about as sharp a point as I could put on this viral-infested tip:

Jim Leff said...

People need more than vague snark from anonymous ghosts to spend 8 mins watching a video.

If you have something valuable or informative to offer, make the pitch as an actual human, and with more evident intelligence than a random boner pill salesman.

I may sometimes write stupid stuff, but I take responsibility like a grownup. Do the same....or else don't imagine for a millisecond that you're part of the solution.

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