COVID 19 Brief update

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I will be posting brief updates a few times a week regarding COVID 19. I will try to simplify the situation while still staying scientifically up to date.

Today is March 23, 2020.

First off, I want to emphasize that thankfully the vast majority of individuals who contract COVID 19 make a full recovery. With all the attention, this fact is sometimes forgotten. So why all the worry then?

I have been comparing COVID 19 to a wildfire, and while the analogy does not completely describe the situation, I believe it conveys the broad concept in a more understandable fashion. Like a wildfire, COVID 19 will race through a population of people rapidly if there is enough “fuel” for it to burn. The “fuel” in this instance is us, since almost all humans will not have immunity to this virus initially. The idea of keeping people from congregating together is to deny the virus of fuel.

To stay with the wildfire analogy, there are times where a fire will burn remotely, and firefighters will leave it be and just observe. Other times, when the fire burns close to structures or other important areas, there will be an all out effort to stop it, or at the very least contain it. We are at that point with COVID 19. Since we have no way to prevent it or even treat it, we must try to stop its spread. Unfortunately, this approach is not without huge cost, both to our economy and also our psyche.

However, from a public health perspective this is an acceptable trade off, as the alternative is a potential death rate in the tens of thousands or even higher. Arguments made that we have more deaths from other preventable causes such as car accidents and even influenza/flu and do not restrict people’s activities are accurate yet incomplete. For those causes, we have ways to avoid or minimize deaths. We do not have that capability with COVID 19. So in this instance we must err on the side of caution and try to stop this virus from infecting large numbers of people. One of the big fears is that with larger numbers of infected individuals this virus will mutate, and potentially change into a much more deadly variant then we are seeing now. If that were to occur, then we could approach the 25% death rate that occurred in Albert Camus’ classic novel The Plague, a work I recommend reading.

So, once again I urge everyone to stay at home for the next week. In the next update (which I will try to post tomorrow) I will review the various treatment approaches that are being utilized, and hopefully, discuss what has not worked. Take care.

Jeff Mayer, MD