What’s up, QuaranTEAM!? The only infection I have (presumably) is that I can’t stop reading about this virus! And enough of you seemed to appreciate my last deep dive, so as your locally-confined pants-journalist, here’s my understanding of what’s happening (and what needs to be happening) in Corona Countdown WEEK 2!
Note that this is written from a United States perspective as that’s where I am and, based on our demographic analytics, where most of you are too!
YOU SHOULD BE AT HOME!
If you’re taking this seriously, the last 7 days have probably been simultaneously the most exciting and most boring of your life.
The virus is here and we’re going to have to deal with it. As of this writing, it’s in 152 countries and all 50 US states and we need to take immediate and drastic action to squelch it before things get apocalyptic.
As I mentioned last week, this virus spreads exponentially. When left unchecked, an infected person gives at least 2 other people the virus before they recover. Think of it like a couple that has 4 kids, and each of their kids has 4 kids, and each of their kids has 4 kids, etc etc but instead of that new generation being born every 30 years it’s every 3 days.
To stop the virus, we need to get the infection rate under 1 and keep it there. Then the number of people with the virus will fall and eventually wither away to nothing. So how do we do that?
As I mentioned last week, shutdowns are coming and luckily a lot of them came! Many cities and states in the US and countries around the world have closed all schools/non-essential businesses and are encouraging people to stay at home.
IF YOU’RE NOT IN LOCKDOWN, CALL YOUR LOCAL OFFICIALS AND TELL THEM TO DO SO.
To continue my butchered metaphor, lockdowns drastically reduce the chance that infected people can interact with healthy people and make their fucked-up viral children.
If we’re doing this right, a locked down area should have their highest TRUE rate of infection the day it was locked down. I say true because we don’t know who those infected people are (most of them don’t either) and they aren’t reflected yet in the stats.
Typical duration for Covid-19 is around 2-3 weeks. About 5 days to show symptoms and 10-14 for severe cases to become critically ill. So even with perfect social distancing, the numbers are going to get worse for at least the next 2 weeks as these cases are discovered. But don’t despair!
After that it should level off and start to go down to near zero in a month or two and life can begin to go back to normal. That’s how it went in China and South Korea and that’s how it could go in the west if we take it seriously.
But David! Won’t this all start up again as soon as we stop quarantining ourselves?? Are we on house arrest for the next year???
We can go mostly back to normal in a few weeks IF WE START TESTING LIKE CRAZY AND WE LOCKDOWN NOW. Testing is how we keep that infection rate under 1 while most people can go about their lives.
Once the amount of infected people is at a manageable level, we can identify them early and isolate them, tracking and quarantining anyone they potentially exposed instead of all of us having to do it.
We all have to do it right now though because we don’t know who’s infected and who’s not.
It didn’t have to be this way!
We could’ve been testing and isolating from the beginning but our President refused tests from the World Health Organization when the first cases arrived here in January.
Health officials have had to ration the few tests we do have and a lot of people did not get treatment and/or infected exponentially more people because of it. We’re stuck inside because of his actions and it could’ve been a hundred times less severe than it already is if it were handled properly.
That aside over, testing is ramping up in a very big way! This now has the scientific community’s full attention and nearly every lab in the world that can test for this virus is going to start.
New York announced yesterday that they’re currently testing at a higher rate per capita than South Korea, which was previously the highest in the world. Dozens of start-ups start shipping their at-home tests next week. Once there is no longer a shortage of tests for those who have symptoms or possible exposure, I’d recommend getting tested as soon as you can.
UNTIL THEN BEHAVE LIKE YOU HAVE IT!
Widespread testing of populations in Italy and South Korea has shown that upwards of 50% of people with the virus are asymptomatic and doing most of the spreading. Act like you’ve got it, that way you won’t spread it. But when we get to easing of social distancing in a few weeks, expect to be tested and tested regularly.
So that’s about the state of it! We’re doing the right things in locked down areas. Stay calm and stay inside, try to treat it like a little vacation if you can.
Is this going to be like the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic?
In the developed world, probably not.
Covid-19 has a similar transmission and mortality rate to the Spanish flu virus, but medical science and just as importantly communication technology are way better 100 years later. We’re taking countermeasures way faster than anyone had the ability to in 1918.
An estimated 28% of Americans were infected by the Spanish flu virus whereas Wuhan, the epicenter of China, had a Covid infection rate of 0.6% and it appears it’s basically finished there now. I don’t think the US will beat 0.6% because we willfully fucked up testing at the start, but a 28% infection is if we basically do nothing.
1918 could, however, become a reality in developing countries with a high population density but without the infrastructure or economic ability to react like we can. India, for example, has 4x the population of the US in 1/3 the space, less than half our GDP, and they already have confirmed cases.
When is there going to be a vaccine?
Probably not for 18 months.
Even if the ideal vaccine exists today (which it very well might!), human trials need to run for a least a year to see if there are any side effects. Injecting large segments of the population with an untested vaccine could be more devastating than the virus.
But who knows! As mentioned, the entire scientific community is focused on this problem right now and breakthroughs could happen sooner.
What does “shelter in place” mean?
There are a lot of different terms for lockdowns/shutdowns flying around right now, the most restrictive in the US is currently “shelter in place.” This means stay home except if you have a reason related to your or someone else’s survival and only essential businesses are open:
- Repair services
- Take-out/delivery restaurants
You can also still exercise and see family. This is no more restrictive than what I recommended in the last update and should be nationwide for at least the next couple weeks. Call your local leaders and encourage them to do this!
Are we going to run out of food?
If you’ve ever driven between Denver and Chicago, you know that a full 1/3 of this country is made of corn. The US is the largest exporter of food in the world by a factor of 2 and the supply chains remain intact. You might not be able to find your favorite flavor of Ben & Jerry’s for a little bit, but if you have money to buy food you’re not going to starve.
The situation is more dire for people who were already food insecure. Panic buying has made it much more difficult for people who can only buy food 10 or 20 bucks at a time. Please consider donating to your local food bank if you have the means and limit your purchases the next time you go to the store.
I’m young, I’ll be fine right?
Even in the apocalypse scenario, 96% of people *don’t* die.
Still don’t be an ass, we’re in this together and your lack of precaution could easily kill someone. Also you don’t know if you have a precondition until it’s discovered and when was the last time you went to the doctor in our backwards up healthcare system?
How do I (stop myself from) get(ing) infected?
There seem to be only two ways to get coronavirus:
- Inhale it
- Touch it to your nose or eyes
You could get it if an infected person coughs/sneezes close enough for you to breathe in their mucus or saliva. Avoid that by staying 6ft+ away from other people.
Or you could get it by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your nose and/or eyes. Avoid that by washing your hands frequently and not touching your nose or eyes. Try not to let others touch your nose or eyes either.
What SHOULD I be afraid of?
Communal surfaces: door knobs, light switches, touch screens, gas pumps, handrails, countertops, and anything that’s probably been touched by people other than yourself.
Disinfect these as frequently as you can with soap & water, bleach, or rubbing alcohol.
Other people: the only person you’re in control of is yourself so you have no idea who they’ve been in contact with recently or if they’re an asymptomatic carrier. It’s like the high school std talk but catching this thing isn’t even any fun.
Keep a minimum 6 foot distance.
Objects people may have touched in the last 24-72 hours: cash, delivery packages, mail, groceries, etc.
The virus can live on surfaces for 1-3 days. Disinfect or let “cool off” for a couple days before using.
What SHOULDN’T I be afraid of?
Food: The virus can only enter your body via your eyes and airways. There have been zero reported cases of transmission from eating it. Even if someone infected sneezed in your salad, unless you shove it up your nose, you’re probably fine.
Do be wary of the containers food comes in tho! You could infect yourself by handling a contaminated takeout container or can of soup and rubbing your eye. Transfer takeout food to your own containers if you can and wash your hands after handling them. There also seems to be some evidence of oral/fecal infection, but if you’re eating the shit of potentially infected people right now I don’t know what to tell you…
J. Kenji Lopez-Alt wrote an amazingly thorough guide on food in the time of Covid, check it out on Serious Eats.
Going outside: Exercising and sunlight are a great way to relax during all this and vitamin D builds immunity. I feel immeasurably better after walking or running everyday.
Just stay far away from other people when you do and try to pick somewhere relatively tame. Search and rescue aren’t operating at 100% right now.
Should I wear a mask/gloves?
Masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) are running a global shortage right now as they’re needed to protect frontline healthcare workers. Masks are incredibly effective at preventing sick people from spreading the virus via coughing or sneezing and they make it difficult to touch their nose or mouth to contaminate surfaces.
We should all be wearing masks when going out. I wrote a guide for how to make one from a t-shirt and a paper clip that’s 70% as effective as a professional one—give it a look!
Gloves are less effective. You have to be very careful taking them off or you defeat the purpose by contaminating your hands. Just wash your hands frequently and you’ll get the same result.
What can I do to help?
One of the hardest things about this is that we have to be so passive waiting at home until this is over. But that’s the most effective thing we can do as individuals right now.
In your community though, think about what you can do to help with things like childcare, older or immunocompromised neighbors, and food banks.
Are there any special skills or connections you have that could help people in need or our medical system? I work out of a small sewing factory and we’re trying to see if we can make PPE for area hospitals. Other industry folks reading this, see if you can do the same! NYC just put out the call for all available garment manufacturers who can contribute.
I lost my job and I don’t have enough money to pay my bills!
Don’t pay them!
You aren’t alone, unemployment claims went up 10x the last week and the fed projects 30% unemployment in Q2. Many places have instituted moratoriums on evictions and utility shut offs. Tax day was extended to July!
Check where you are, but you can probably stay where you are until this is over even if you can’t pay bills. Do you think your landlord could really find new tenants right now?
There’s serious talk of the fed issuing cash to get Americans through this. Until then, prioritize the food/medicine you need to survive with the money you have on hand.
If you were put in charge what would you do?
One silver lining for me is I’ve felt a lot of the progressive world views have been totally validated in this crisis!
- We should have a national lockdown for at least 2 weeks or until the new daily cases have diminished to a controllable level
- We should activate the Defense Production Act to have our factories start producing the med equipment and resources we need to fight this
- We should have universal healthcare guaranteed to all so no one will be bankrupted for getting sick
- We should pay and respect the most integral people in our workforce accordingly (grocery workers, healthcare workers, service workers, social workers, garbage removal, delivery drivers, teachers, trade workers, municipal workers, etc)
- We should immediately give everyone at least $2k/month until this is over and tax it back from high earners later
- We should suspend rent, mortgage, and utility payments and halt evictions and shut-offs nationwide
- We should end ICE raids and abolish the organization while we’re at it
- We should have guaranteed paid sick leave
- We should cancel student debt
- We should release the majority of the incarcerated people in our prison system (who can’t otherwise social distance and will be devastated by this virus)
- Small businesses should be given close to zero interest loans to reopen their doors on the other side
- Large companies that take bailouts should be nationalized into public ownership
- Broadband should be a public utility and data caps are bullshit
Basically everything Bernie Sanders has been saying for the last 40 years!
Is there some brighter side to this?
I’ve been thinking about Marianne Williamson, the novelty presidential candidate. I wouldn’t want her advice on healthcare necessarily, but her theory on addressing climate change was that humanity needed to ascend to some higher level of consciousness before we could solve it. I thought it was laughable at the time but it honestly feels like this could be that moment.
This pandemic is going to be the biggest globally shared trauma since WWII. This time, however, all people are united against a common enemy. Solidarity for everyone in every country is the only logical reaction to this crisis.
The shared grief of the Great Depression got us the New Deal and other progressive policies that ushered the US into the most prosperous period in the history of the world.
That progressive boomtime from 1935-1965 got us: our highway system, a national electric grid, dramatically expanded public schools and libraries, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security, the GI bill, and many many other things that make life much better for all Americans.
We’ve been skating on those gains since the 1970s while they’ve been hollowed out by those that tell us “government is the problem.” The bill has finally come due.
I’d been expecting the global economy to collapse for a few years now, hoping that that disruption would give us the reset needed for a new progressive era and to address the existential threat of climate change. The coronavirus is a dramatic reset and looks like it’s going to accelerate us into economic collapse immediately.
This is our chance to change the path of unsustainable industrial capitalism that’s destroying our ability to live on this planet and working people’s ability to live at all.
In the last couple weeks, air and water quality is the best it’s been in decades. But don’t listen to the eco-fascists that claim we need to cull the population so a select few people can keep living in our current unsustainable ways. We don’t have to live that way at all.
We’re all learning how to live with less right now. We’re all learning how to dramatically alter our typical behavior to save the lives of people we love and the lives of people we don’t know. How much we all rely on each other is more obvious now than ever.
This is a watershed moment in history we’re all living through. And during it, many of us have been granted more time for solitude and self-reflection than we’ll probably ever have again. That’s a lot of time to think about what got us here and what we want the world to look like when it’s over.
No one wanted this pandemic, the real pain it’s going to inflict on tens if not hundreds of millions of people is incomprehensible. But it’s here now and what we choose to do with it is up to us. These are the days when the best of humanity has a chance to shine.
As my friend and roommate Randy says (now more than ever), “No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”
Where is Heddels going from here?
As I mentioned last week, we’re not planning on going anywhere and are actually planning to expand what we’re doing during this crisis. We’re here to help, to keep you informed, to try and make your lives easier and call to action when we think it’s appropriate.
For now, we’re running a home repair contest (aka BOROntine) and have upcoming pieces on how to do your laundry in your kitchen, how to make alterations from home, and other topics that will help you make what you’ve got last longer and feel more meaningful.
We’re also planning on getting back into other media content like more videos, livestreaming, and maybe even bringing back the podcast and the forum.
Stay tuned, stay safe, and stay well out there!