Wow there is soooooo much bogus information about COVID-19 going around right now. Partly this is because the government didn’t say enough soon enough to inform people, partly it is because people don’t want to take the effort to actually look up real information, and mostly because people don’t know how to tell the real from the crap.
Here it is straight.
TL:DR The facts you need to know about COVID-19; How to spot fake news; How to stay sane
Corona virus is a kind of virus (there are many millions of different viruses) that can sometimes affect humans. Other viruses you might be familiar with are influenza, ebola and measles. None of these are the same virus, just like I am a vertebrate, so is a chimpanzee, rat and chicken. We aren’t the same, even though we are in the same category.
Corona virus is zoonotic. That is, it mostly exists in non-human animals and occasionally crosses over to infect humans. The most common form of this is about 20% of the common cold. The common cold is categorised as rhinovirus, which is the group name for many viruses that attack the nose, causing it to “run”. Usually we humans experience a runny nose, a sore throat, some fatigue and fever. Generally we successfully overcome it.
This version is different. It mostly attacks the lungs and heart. Age and gender appear to be less relevant than do you have an existing (whether you know about it or not) lung and heart condition. If so, you have switched from potentially 3 times more deadly than the worst influenza in the last 10 years to potentially 70 times more deadly [link] and [link].
Because this version is so different, we are giving it some special labels. 2019 coronavirus, SARS-2-Cov, SARS-Cov-2, COVID-19, COVID-19 virus etc. For all intents and purposes, they are the same thing (there is a slight difference between the virus itself and the pneumonia/heart conditions caused by it – but let’s keep this at layman’s level, hey?)
Numbers are hard. We humans struggle with them as soon as we reach greater than 1000 of anything. So let us compare COVID-19 to the last big epidemic most people know about – the Spanish Flu. As a matter of destigmatising, it is important to note that this outbreak was named only because Spain was the only country reporting on it. It was first medically detected in the USA. This influenza, while a completely different virus to COVID-19, rocked the world with how deadly it was. It killed about 50 million people world wide (the number varies between 20 million and 100 million because many countries did not keep good statistics). It’s estimated penetration into the community was infecting 1 in 3 people and spread at a rate of about 2.4 infections per infected people. It killed 2.4% of all people who were infected.
COVID-19 has an estimated penetration of 20% to 60% (we don’t really know yet, because it hasn’t finished infecting those who can be infected). This number is important because it gives you an idea of how likely you are to get it if you are in an infected area. This penetration number can be reduced by good hygiene, increased separation from people (social distancing) and isolating those known to be infected. The next number we gave for Spanish Flu was the infections per person. That is, how many people does a not isolated infected person infect? That average is currently being clocked around 2.4 people. In Australia, we are seeing the number increase by 100% every 2 days. That is, if 10 were infected yesterday, then 20 (including that original 10) will be infected tomorrow. If 1000 were infected yesterday, then 2000 will be infected tomorrow. [link]
It is spreading fast.
The next number we used for Spanish Flu was the kill number of 2.4% (estimated because of those bad stats we mentioned earlier). We don’t actually know what the kill number for COVID-19 is as it isn’t over yet (much like the total infectiveness number). However early stats indicate that when the thing is managed well, and the number of people needing hospital is lower than the number of hospital beds available, then the kill rate is 0.9%, which is about 3 times more deadly than the worst seasonal influenza in Australia in the last decade, and not too bad compared to the Spanish Flu estimate. In Australia, where we have kept the number of infected below the number of ICU beds we have, the kill number is really low. But that will change when our infection numbers exceed hospital. We recently saw that in Italy, where a statistic I saw about 7 days ago (approx 16 March 2020) indicated a death rate of 7.7% [link – stats may no longer be relevant]. That is about 3 times worse than the Spanish Flu.
Currently 80% of people infected walk away with no known long lasting effects from COVID-19. The other 1 in 5 infected people aren’t so lucky. The other 20% of people will need hospital assistance. Let us pretend that 5 people go to hospital for care. On average 4 of those will need low intensity support, and walk away with minor lung damage and a stressed heart and should watch that for the next few years. The 5th person will need to go to ICU [Intensive Care Unit] (on average) where they will probably recover and leave the hospital. As the numbers of infected people rise, the number will exceed the ICU beds, and those people will die. That is the difference between Australia now, and Australia when we hit Italy’s level of infection. Somewhere around 5% of the population that are infected, which is likely to be twice the number of the Spanish Flu, will not recover and will not leave the hospital to live their lives.
So what can we do about this?
First of all, follow the medical advice.
- Hygiene – imagine the world outside your safe zone (usually your house) is covered in wet paint that takes a really long time to dry (up to 48 hours). The only way to keep the paint off you and the things you care about is to avoid touching stuff. Before you eat or touch your face outside your safe zone, wash your hands. When you return to your safe zone, go and have a shower and wash the clothes that you were wearing. Also wipe down any objects you handled while out there, like your phone, wallet and keys. Wipe down the items you brought back. Get used to doing this now.
- Soap and water is the best method to clean things – soap damages the virus. Use the WHO Standard of Hand Washing. Alcohol that is stronger than 60% harms it too, but not as well as soap. Bleach is the next best. Vinegar, cumin and tumeric are useless.
- If you have to sneeze or cough, do so into your own elbow or shoulder. The idea is to cut down the spray you eject that covers surfaces.
- Gloves and masks are minimally effective as most people are not trained to use them properly. Avoid the Dunning-Krugger ignorance effect and think you know how if you have not been formally taught.
- Social distancing – keep about 1.8 m (6 ft) away from others [link] whenever you are outside of your safe zone. If you don’t touch a person, or get into the region their sneeze/cough can get you, you won’t get infected.
- People forget that lines are close, schools are close and parties are close. These break social distancing protocols.
- Sometimes you will have to get closer to people. Minimise these times and go wash afterwards.
- Rethink going out – if you can avoid leaving your safe zone, do so.
- Isolating those who have infection – if you know someone, encourage them to keep curfew. If you are in the government, enforce the fines for people who break curfew.
Myths – In an absence of real digestible information and in a spirited effort to make this less serious, people are grasping at quick fixes and misinformation in a delusion that they can get through this faster and unscathed. Stop it. You are putting yourself and others you love at risk.
Quick ways to tell if a thing you hear is fiction
- “Scientists don’t want you to know” – actually they do want you to know the right information, they don’t want you to think you know misinformation.
- “How to make your own cure” – no you can’t. If it were that simple, the government would be spending money on that instead of all of these expensive scientific methods.
- “This natural substance cures/prevents” – not for this, not in humans.
- “All you have to do is these simple things” that isn’t only listing the primary two methods of Hygiene and Distancing in various ways
- There is no link to sources
How to not develop an anxiety disorder
- Slow down your social media and reading all of the scary stuff that is above and beyond what I’ve written here. This is what you should be concerned about, not the other things designed to scare you and make you share stuff. Only share if it is sources and scientific.
- Have a plan on how to maintain your safe zone. Practice it now while mistakes are not likely to cause contamination so that later when it is more critical you have the system down pat.
- Stay in contact with your village via the internet (in today’s society, our friends are our village – the people we care about)
- Reach out to those who are health compromised and offer to get them stuff when you get your own stuff. Leave it at their door to avoid possible contamination. Try to disinfect it first.
And most of all, plan for a long time in this new world, because this isn’t going to blow over soon.