Are you confused with all the misinformation about COVID-19?
Are you unsure what you should be doing right now to prepare?
I’ve been asked by many of my friends, family, and clients for advice on how they should be handling the COVID-19 pandemic. As a data science consultant, many people have come to trust my evidence-based, rational decision-making approach as a valuable source of information.
Previously, I’ve taken a more reserved “just stay calm, play it safe, and wait until we have more information” approach. However, in light of new information, I now believe that we need to take action immediately. More precisely, in hindsight, I believe we should have taken collective action several weeks ago.
So, to help all of you that are currently confused about what to believe or unsure about what to do next, I’ve created the following summary of five things that you should be doing right now to prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is currently a tremendous amount of misinformation floating around the web and social media regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, our highly politicized news sources have exaggerated some facts and downplayed other more important facts. This has led to a highly distorted view of the situation compared to the reality of things.
First, you need to educate yourself about the COVID-19 pandemic from reliable sources. These include the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and medical experts with a background in epidemiology. These do not include entertainment “news” sources, politically biased media sources, or social media. Focus on the scientific evidence and the story that the data are currently telling. The real picture becomes very clear once you have the right information.
The biggest problem we face is the potential of overloading our medical industry with a flood of patients. While roughly 80% of COVID-19 cases are mild, 20% require hospitalization. Of those 20% hospitalized, roughly 5% require intensive care. Multiply these numbers by millions of people and you have a national healthcare emergency on your hands. Patient survival rates are mostly dependent on age and the presence of underlying health conditions. However, for those in the high-risk category, their survival rate depends largely on access to proper medical care. If the hospitals become overwhelmed many more people will die.
The best thing we can do right now is to take proactive measures to “flatten the curve“. Exponential growth curves start off slow but then explode very rapidly. As a result, we need to be proactive to reduce the trajectory of this exponential growth curve. By flattening the curve, we slow the spread of the virus and reduce the likelihood of overwhelming our medical infrastructure. This is the single most important thing we can do right now to minimize the overall death toll and damage to our society. Every day we wait to take action now means literally thousands more lives will be lost a month from now.
Many of us feel helpless in all of this. We don’t think there is anything that one person can do to make a significant impact in the outcome of this situation. However, please hear me when I say that you have a major role to play in this historic world event. You can save real human lives by doing your part to flatten the curve.
So how do we flatten the curve? There are a few key evidence-based recommendations from the experts. First, stay at home (if possible) to avoid spreading the virus. Second, avoid large gatherings of people. Third, keep your distance from people in public. Fourth, wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water. Finally, avoid touching your face. The CDC has a full list of these recommendations. When you combine all of our individual proactive measures, it will have a tremendous impact on the outcome of this pandemic.
Over the past few days, you’ve undoubtedly noticed an absence of certain kinds of foods, beverages, and dry goods at your local grocery store. Checkout lines have gotten much longer as well. Some people are stocking up on a few extra items – just in case they get quarantined for a couple of days – while others appear to be stockpiling in preparation for a zombie apocalypse.
It’s generally good advice to have a reasonable supply of shelf-stable food and supplies on hand in the event of a short-term emergency. In addition, by minimizing the number of trips you need to take to the grocery store over the next few weeks, you’ll reduce the likelihood of spreading the virus. However, it’s wasteful and economically disruptive to hoard months’ worth of food and supplies. In addition, hoarding medical supplies creates very dangerous situations for medical professionals who actually need them to treat patients.
Things are going to be very weird for the next few months. Schools will close, some people will work remotely from home, businesses will close, vacations will be canceled, weddings will be postponed, and much more. Most of us have not lived through a pandemic of this nature in our lifetimes. So, expect significant disruptions to normal life in the next few months.
However, please remember that even during the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 the lights stayed on, water kept running, and food was still available. In addition, even after the Great Depression, the stock market recovered and things returned to normal. It’s quite safe to assume that this situation will be the same in the end.
When all is said and done, my hope is that this experience will teach our society an important lesson about what we value most in our lives, what the real threats are in our world, and how we should allocate resources to improve the lives of every living creature on this planet. Ultimately, I hope we will become more resilient as individuals, as businesses, as a society, and as a planet as a result of this experience.
Please remember that we’re all in this together!
If you’d like to learn more about the Coronavirus pandemic from a evidence-based, data-driven perspective, I recommend the following article Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now
If you want to see what the epidemic looked like (on the ground) during the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China, please watch the following short documentary The Lockdown: One Month in Wuhan