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To bear trials with a calm mind robs misfortune of its strength and burden.
Coronavirus (COVID 19) - Just the Flu, Bruh
I have been following this topic intently for the better part of 5 weeks now—perhaps, more than I should. I’ve been keeping up with the CDC, WHO, and The White House Task Force, listening to physicians and infectious disease specialists, following subreddits, twitter threads, podcasts, and of course, the obligatory Facebook optical groups. I’ve seen far too many comments and important decisions being made based on ignorance, politics, and panic, all of which I implore you to do your best to eliminate from your decision-making. With an Optical Retail Success readership of over 15,000 optical professionals, I feel I have a responsibility to let you know what I have learned, to provide you with crucially important information and information sources to hopefully, help you make more informed decisions. This is the same information I am sharing with my family and friends.
So, let me start with a few disclaimers. I am not an expert. I am not a virologist, an immunologist, an infectious disease specialist, a physician, a statistician, an economist, or even a medical professional. I have a very strong normalcy bias, in other words, my brain tends to lean toward inactivity when faced with uncomfortable change, with the expectation that everything will, in all likelihood, remain the same as it ever was. However, I am acutely aware of that tendency as well as other cognitive biases that I may fall prey to and I try to adjust whenever possible. I have a reasonable ability to identify biases in others and to separate good information from bad, which is where I hope to bring some value.
I am not a prepper, but I’ll have to admit—as long as you promise not to tell anyone—that I did do some serious prep for Y2K. While somewhat embarrassing to admit now, I learned a lot from it. More recently, I can tell you that I got out of the stock market on a high right before the most recent 20%+ nose dive (TBD how well I do getting back in, but it’s not likely to be any time soon.), I made the decision to not let John go to VEE weeks ahead of its cancellation (I assumed it would be cancelled anyway) and about five weeks ago, I started buying a few extra items at each time I visited the grocery store. I did all this not because I possess some special intelligence or an ability to forecast the future, I am simply paying attention to the right people.
So, why is this coronavirus thing such a big deal? Between 30,000 and 60,000 people die of the flu every year in the U.S. alone. At the time I am writing this, only 30 people in the U.S. have died from COVID-19. What’s more, we are assured that the virus only affects the sick and elderly, and most people that get it will only experience “mild” symptoms.
Before I get into the specifics of these particular statements, let’s take a quick look at some of the things going on around us.
Last month, China, the second or third most powerful country in the world depending on who you ask, essentially shut everything down not only at the expense of their short-term economic prosperity but potentially their status as an economic superpower. The coronavirus is China’s swan song. There is no way it can be the low-cost, world manufacturer anymore.
Three weeks ago, there were 2 identified cases of COVID-19 in Italy. Today there are well over 12,000 with over 2400 added just today (3/11/20) and the entire country (the eighth-largest economy in the world) on lockdown. Following the numbers, it becomes clear that Spain, France, and Germany are likely to follow in Italy’s footsteps within the next couple of weeks, if not sooner.
The Chancellor of Germany announced that she anticipates 60-70% of the German population will contract COVID-19.
At least 12 U.S. States have declared a state of emergency with the federal government considering the possibility of declaring a national state of emergency.
The Governor of New York activated the National Guard to enforce containment in his State.
The Governor of Kentucky has recommended the suspension of all church services.
The President of the United States announced a 30-day ban on travel and cargo from Europe.
Now, a rational person might question whether or not this is all the result of a “less than bad flu season.”
So, back to the original question. If the flu numbers appear much worse and most people who become infected with COVID-10 will only experience “mild symptoms”, what gives? We don’t do this kind of thing for the flu.
Let’s set aside for a moment the fact that we don’t have a vaccine for COVID-19 or even an effective treatment and just consider the flu numbers alone. They don’t even begin to tell the whole story because we’re talking apples and oranges. You simply cannot compare a static value (the number of flu deaths per year) with an exponentially growing one. In fact, it’s incomprehensible to me that people calling themselves “professionals” have actually been promoting these numbers in order to ease people’s minds.
Now, consider Angela Merkel’s assertion that 60-70% of the German population will contract the virus. If true, that means somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 million people in Germany will be infected with COVID-19. You say, “but, 80% are mild and younger people are less affected.” Not so bad, right?
Well, unfortunately, “80% are mild” can be stated another way: 20% are hospitalized, half of which (10%) require intensive care, and of course, somewhere between 1-3% die. If Merkel is correct, barring a radical change in the progression and treatment of this disease—for which we should remain hopeful—that equates to somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 million people requiring hospitalization, 5 million people requiring ICU, and 0.5 to 1.5 million requiring caskets ...in Germany alone.
There is absolutely no reason to think that this cannot happen in the U.S, where the numbers could be even larger. For weeks, I’ve been reading that the COVID-19 virus is expected to reach 40-70% of the global population. Try doing the math on those numbers and comparing them to the seasonal flu. That should give you some idea of the potential scale we’re facing.
Now, are these numbers set in stone? Maybe, maybe not. What happens next, depends largely on you, me and our individual actions.
Our medical systems simply cannot withstand anywhere near the kind of load anticipated in the short time expected. There are already reports of hospitals in Italy on the verge of collapse with barely 0.02% of their population identified as being infected.
The most important thing we can do now is to buy as much time as possible.
We need to stretch this thing out as long as we can to spread the load across many months, if possible, to allow our systems to catch up and hope for the development of better treatments and a better understanding of the disease. A vaccine is simply too far off and hopes of the virus disappearing in the summer are largely a fantasy.
The countries that have managed to get the virus under control have instituted massive testing and quarantines. If you’ve been paying any attention, you are aware that our testing in the U.S. has been and remains abysmal. 10,000 tests a day are being performed in countries like Japan and South Korea. The U.S. has yet to perform 10,000 tests in total.
That being the case, the most important thing you and I can do right now, is to do our part to slow the spread by simply avoiding unnecessary contact with other people. This may sound over-the-top and I know you still have to do your job. But remember, there are far more people infected than we currently know, and a person doesn’t have to be symptomatic to be shedding the virus. So if you have a choice of being with other people or not, even if it is a tough one, choose not, as much as you possibly can.
This is not about fear, it’s about responsibility. Now is not the time for bravado or for standing in the face of danger. Even if you believe your personal risk to be low (we all believe it won’t happen to us), your refusal to take action puts everyone in danger.
I am fortunate in that I work from home. But, my wife is a teacher and doesn’t have that luxury and neither do my optician and optometrist friends. So, we’re going to have to find other ways to minimize the risk of community spread in those situations. I’ll share some ideas in my next newsletter. My son is homeschooled, but has already missed a multi-day leadership conference. He will also miss his best friend’s birthday party, a dance, and other important events. It tears me up, but as I mentioned, I no longer see our actions in the context of individual risk alone. I have to continually remind myself that I have a responsibility to society to minimize contact with others whenever possible until we get this thing under control.
Sadly, these actions (social distancing) will have negative consequences of their own. Setting aside, the loneliness factor, the economy is going to take more damage. As consumers go out less and spend less, businesses will undoubtedly struggle. Some people are likely to lose their jobs and may not be able to find new ones as a result. But, the alternative of having all this forced upon us by uncontrolled community spread of the virus would certainly be far worse.
Things are going to change for all of us. That change will be with us for months if not years as the story of this virus plays out.
"We would like the country to realize that as a nation, we can't be doing the kinds of things we were doing a few months ago. It doesn't matter if you're in a state that has no cases or one case. If and when the infections will come -- and they will come, sorry to say, sad to say -- when you're dealing with an infectious disease... we want to be where the infection is going to be, as well as where it is," —Anthony Fauci, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Director (3/10/20)
In the face of all this, I still have no doubt that we are going to get through it all and we will be stronger and wiser on the other side, but it is likely to be a long bumpy ride and it won't be without casualties. Buckle up.
I have much more information, including information sources, specifics on what you need to be doing and thinking about personally, for your business, and in the retail environment. So, stay tuned. With the situation constantly changing, I have a feeling this type of update may become a more regular thing.
Stay safe. Stay calm. Keep your body and mind healthy. Try not to be tempted to drown your stress in sugar or alcohol. Remember mood follows action. So, if you haven’t already, it’s not too late to do something. Start discussing, planning, and preparing. Get outside. Move. Get some fresh air and sunshine. The vitamin D and mood enhancement will do you good.
Constant misfortune brings this one blessing: to whom it always assails, it eventually fortifies.
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