CoronaVirus: Get Over It

by Colin Berkshire

I just got back from China. I changed flights in a desolate Hong Kong airport – the vast majority of flights were cancelled. Why am I traveling during a global crisis? Let’s look at the data objectively.

Hong Kong Airport

Wuhan China has the highest concentration of Coronavirus. Out of a population of about 75-million, about 75-Thousand have gotten ill. So if you are in the epicenter there is only a 1-in-1000 chance you will get ill. Conclusion: You are probably not going to get Coronavirus.

[See updated post].

Of those who get Coronavirus, 80% experience nothing worse than the common cold. The remaining 20% will experience pneumonia-like symptoms and may require treatment or hospitalization. Conclusion: If you are the unlucky 1-in-a-thousand person who gets Coronavirus, it will probably be a 2-week illness and then you will be fine.

Coronavirus kills roughly 1.4% of the people who contract it. This means it kills 14 people in 1-Million (see notes below). Sounds bad, right? Well, the death rate is 14,000 people per million in any given year. So Coronavirus represents only a 0.1% increase in the natural death rate. Conclusion: The death rate from Coronavirus is so small that it is statistically insignificant.

Most of the people who die from Coronavirus are those with weakened immune systems…persons who are already close to being included in the natural death statistics. Conclusion: Coronavirus is somewhat (slightly) accelerating the death of people who are near death; if you keep healthy the odds strongly suggest you will be just fine.

There is no medicine for Coronavirus. No vaccine and no antidote. Antibiotics are only effective for secondary infections, since they don’t work on viral infections. Conclusion: If you get ill you are just going to need to tough it out. There is no magic medicine cure now or in the near future.

We may find a vaccine or a medicine to treat those infected. However, vaccines usually take 5~10 years to be approved and need a minimum of 1~2 years to prove that they don’t cause more harm than good. Nothing is on the near-term horizon. For those who are severely affected there is a three-drug cocktail that has been highly effective in China and Thailand. It uses previously approved anti-virals. The drug treatment includes a mixture of anti-HIV drugs lopinavir and ritonavir, in combination with flu drug oseltamivir in large doses. The folks who can find a solution are working overtime…drug companies smell profits, researchers smell fame, and governments feel heat. Conclusion: We will eventually have an answer, but not this year and not next year. And, we are already doing everything possible, so asking for more doesn’t help.

Coronavirus is too small to get filtered by face masks. They are needed by medical professionals that know how to use them, and in some cases, by infected people that are unable to cover their coughs. The virus actually passes through the masks, it’s more about containing the airflow. Some of the virus does collect on these masks, providing a fertile supply of virus waiting for you to touch. The primary benefit of a face mask is to prevent you from touching your own face.

A pandemic is coming, according to LANL. (Los Alamos National Laboratories is the lead US authority on viruses and bio-weapons). A pandemic means that it cannot be quarantined or stopped, and that it cannot be isolated or contained. It will reach nearly every country, eventually. Conclusion: Containment effort will delay but not stop the virus.

A pandemic doesn’t mean a plague. A pandemic only means it will spread. It doesn’t address severity, death or infection rates, or anything of severity. Conclusion: Pandemic is a scary mis-understood word that can lead to panic. Just assume the virus will be everywhere.

So where does this leave us?

  • We are more likely to hurt ourselves and our economy through stupidity and panic. This is just not a big thing. The numbers say it is not going to hurt us as much as we may hurt ourselves through panic.
  • Just assume it will get everywhere. Stop panicking every time it breaches into another region. It’s going to get everywhere. And so what? The infection rate is very low and the death rate is statistically insignificant.
  • Solutions are being worked on. They are not going to be available this year or next year. But sometime, yes.
  • You are going to be fine. If you are still worrying that you are going to die, then re-read the points above (more carefully.)

What can you do?

  • Reduce your stress: It is your immune system that will fight the Coronavirus. So do what you can to make it strong. Reduce your stress level and quit worrying. Stress reduces your immune system’s ability to concentrate on fighting the bugs.
  • Wash your hands: Your own hands are the most likely path for Coronavirus to enter your body…mostly from you touching your face. Wash every time you arrive somewhere. Make a trip to the bathroom and just quickly wash. It will help.
  • Don’t touch things: Avoid touching things unnecessarily. Use your knuckle to touch elevator buttons. Hold escalator handrails using your elbow. Avoid touching your face!
  • Wash your mouth: Brush your teeth and wash your mouth. This will reduce the load on your immune system. It is normally pretty busy fighting things in your mouth. By cleaning your mouth it can go work on other areas needing defense.
  • Facemasks are mostly useless. A face mask is only if you cannot control yourself. They are a good way to help prevent you from touching your mouth. They can contain your sneezes if you haven’t learned to cough into your shoulder. They don’t filter the virus…they collect it and concentrate it!
  • Don’t Hoard Toilet Paper: Don’t fuel this hysterical panic which leads to truly stupid behavior like hoarding toilet paper. It’s impossible to purchase toilet paper in Tokyo or Hong Kong. People have gone bezerk and hoarding lots of things. These things become self-feeding cycles. They raise your stress level and harm our economy. Just don’t do it.

I understand this is a serious new disease that is indeed scary. New dangerous things are always scary. But I think the hysteria is an overreaction. There are far more scary and dangerous things out there that are known and better understood.

Update Feb 29 2020:

To address some of the confusion on death rate calculations: 
Normal death rate:
  • 14,000 per 1-Million people in the population. (1.4% of the population)
Coronavirus death rate:
  • 14 per 1-Million people in the population. (1.4% of the 1-in-1000 who get sick, not 1.4% of the overall population.)
From what we know, it appears Coronavirus will be statistically insignificant with respect to total deaths this year. Of course, the statistics are early, and the numbers will likely evolve. It could go up as the virus adapts, it could go down as we get better at detection and treatment.  The best computer model I have seen (from in-the-know folks) predict a total of 100,000 people will die from Coronavirus in 2020.  It’s a lot of people, but very small statistically. This is a worldwide number, across all countries.
Yes, it is terrible, and I am very sorry for all of those impacted. My point is the numbers can help combat the hyper sensitivity occurring now.
Consider a Seattle with a population of 2 million:
  • 2,000 people would be expected to get ill from Coronavirus.
  • 28 would be expected to die from Coronavirus.
  • 400 persons will likely need to be hospitalized.

Second Update 3/2/2019: 

There has been a steady stream of comments and tweets along the lines of: “Colin needs to check his math. 1.4% of 1,000,000 is not 14.” I  tried to clarify this with the first update, but the confusion persists. I stand by my math, so let me explain it more thoroughly. The source of the confusion is not the death rate but what is is multiplied with.

Let’s start with the base mortality rate, natural death. This is the number of people that die in a typical year from all causes. The number is 1.4%. With a global population of 1 million, it would be 1,000,000 x .014 = 14,000.

When we compare that with the Coronavirus, we don’t multiply the death rate against the general population, we multiply it by the population of infected people. As of the end of January 2020, we have been seeing a death rate (mortality rate) of 1.4% of confirmed cases (this is of people confirmed to have Coronavirus — not of the general population).

In the highly infected area of Wuhan, the confirmed infection rate is roughly 1-in-1000 persons. Wuhan and the greater area near it has about 75-Million persons*. At at the time of the original post there were roughly 75,000 confirmed cases. This is how the 1-in-1000 persons infection rate was determined.

In a 1-Million person population we are finding a death rate of about 14 persons. 14 people are dying from Coronavirus in a 1-Million population. This means that the Coronavirus is likely to increase human deaths by 1/1000th, or by 0.1%. (Math: 14 Coronavirus deaths / 14000 normal deaths = .001).

To summarize:
  • 1-Million people in the population.
  • / 1000 (Infection Rate)
  • 1,000 Sick people.
  • 1.4% mortality (death rate)
  • 14 persons die

The Coronavirus if left unchecked could kill up to 100,000 people using late January forecasts.

I am expecting revised numbers once the end-of-February stats are analyzed. My guess (emphasis on guess) is that we will see a higher death rate, perhaps doubled, because many of the earlier cases will have gone full term.

I am also anticipating that the infection rate will drop significantly. There is emerging evidence that Coronavirus is selective in who it infects and so once it has entered a population it will quickly spread but then rapidly taper off.


* The quarantined areas have a population of 75-Million. This is much larger than Wuhan. I find that most Americans are hearing about “Wuhan” for the first time, and the notion of the “Quarantined Area” is often vague.