In movies and television, epidemics always grow in the same way—a spreading space of red that creeps across the map of the country, a blob that gradually expands until it snuffs out the last clean white spaces. And until now, the 2019 novel coronavirus has sort of felt that way. China? Bad. Then South Korea. Then Italy. Then … everywhere but here.
But that idea—safe here, unsafe over there—was never true. It’s always been a matter of relative safety. And that’s certainly the case now. There may be spots of blazing red out there on the maps, but everywhere else isn’t white. It’s pink.
The count in the United States is now 96 cases and 6 deaths following a confirmation of additional cases in King Co, Washington and another four cases in Snohomish County. Total cases in Washington state are up to 18. Seven of these cases are currently listed as serious or critical.
Engage in your good habits now.
If you’ve been waiting for that special day when you would start doing all those things you’ve been told are a good idea … it’s that day. Actually, it’s been that day for a while, but if you haven’t begun to practice those good habits, including wash your hands for at least 20 seconds when you’ve been out in the world touching things; cleaning surfaces around your home that you touch frequently, such as doorknobs and countertops; and avoiding touching your face, please do so now. And yes, I know. That last one makes my nose itch, too.
Don't make fun of other people’s fear.
If you haven’t seen someone walking through your local airport, pharmacy, or supermarket wearing a face mask, you almost certainly will in the next couple of days. Don’t snicker at them. Don’t try to tell them that normal surgical masks or hardware store dust masks will not protect against the spread of viruses. Don’t chide them for their fear. Soon enough those masks may be protecting you from people who are genuinely showing symptoms of COVID-19, and that’s a good thing. However, if you see someone threatening to gargle with bleach, stop them.
Be a planner, not a hoarder, but don’t fight with the hoarders.
If civilization falls to the point where lives are traded over packs of Charmin, it probably will mean that a lot more than the coronavirus has gone wrong. But if stocking up on extra Cheetos and Purelling the heck out of everything makes someone feel better, let them. For yourself, continue to buy those few extra items on each trip. Have what you need on hand so when that relative risk is at its peak, you’re not forced to go out in a viral fog just to get some much-needed Nutella. You can be as disgusted as you want by toilet paper guy (see picture above) or the man who used a forklift to stack crates of bottled water into his pickup at my local grocery (really). It’s not worth fighting about. We are not Mad Maxing, no matter how strange the situation seems.
Think about whether you really need to make that trip, even inside the U.S.
That nationwide family reunion you have planned for next month should probably wait—even if you already have that reservation for a nice pavilion. Not so much because it represents a huge risk, but because it’s bound to make a lot of people really uncomfortable. The same may even apply to that drive you’ve been planning to spend a week in Florida around the first manned launch out of Kennedy Space Center in nine years … or that one may just be me. Also, if your business is forcing you to travel for a conference, do not be afraid to ask why that is still necessary. If you’re going across the country to perform heart surgery … go! If you’re going because your company always shoves everyone in a room each March for an annual sales team rah-rah, explain that this isn’t necessarily the right time. “We’re all terrified” is not exactly the feeling you are looking for in your company event.
Don’t let social pressure overcome common sense.
You may feel compelled to shake everyone’s hand. Don’t. You don’t have to land a real or faux kiss on your aunt’s cheek. You don’t have to even make a fist bump of friendship. If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t do it. If someone else doesn’t feel comfortable, don’t make them do it. If you’re going in for a job interview and your prospective new boss holds out her hand, take it. You can always wash later. Just understand that the normal social rituals—including the normal distance that people keep between themselves in social situations—is due for some revision at this time.
If you’re in a political campaign, make some damn adjustments.
We’re right in the middle of the primaries, and there’s a good chance that even if COVID-19 does wane over the summer, it will come roaring back in the fall. That flu epidemic of 1918? The really sucky (as in deadly) part came when it returned the next October. If you are a political candidate, or if you’re working on a political campaign, then now—right f’ing now—is the time to demonstrate some actual leadership by changing the way you do things. Rethink how you go door to door. Rethink bringing dozens of people into the same room just to have them make phone calls. Rethink town halls. Rethink rallies. Rethink how you handle those election night gatherings. People who are out to change the world, but insist that nothing about how they handle campaign events can change, deserve to be left in the political dust. Fix this and show us you’re really concerned about something beyond election night.
Okay, let’s check out the world.
COVID-19: Global Case Status
The overall chart for Sunday shows the same trends that started a couple of days before—the overall number of recoveries continues to grow, because that blue area of the chart is now absorbing the big orange wedge of early cases in China. But the top number has begun to spike again, fueled by growing epicenters around the globe. That influx of new cases has already started to flatten out the top of the active case numbers. Expect those numbers to begin edging upward very soon.
I’m dropping the case status chart in here again after a few days’ absence, in part to show that the three big regional epicenters, South Korea, Italy, and Iran, have all outrun the former chart-topping Diamond Princess. There are actually a couple of interesting stories from this map: how well countries like Singapore and Japan have so far controlled the spread of COVID-19, and how South Korea has done much more to prevent spread outside its borders compared to Italy or Iran. Oh, and, as usual, Iran’s numbers are a fantasy. We just don’t have anything better.
COVID-19: Case status outside China (limited to nations with over 10 active cases)
Looking at those epicenters on the time sequence chart of the top 10 nations—which, despite the effort the darn thing took to make, is of limited value and will die soon—it’s clear that each of those second epicenters stands in a region that also includes some other nations in the top 10. Those nations in the Asia region haven’t really seen a big increase since South Korea began its steep climb. However, the increases in Italy and Iran can be directly mapped to regional outbreaks.
COVID-19: Time sequences of cases outside of China
On Sunday, I talked about the need to bring the story closer to home for readers. That’s not just true for readers in the United States, but I’m starting there today as I fumble toward something that’s more useful in informing people about the situation in their area.
There has been an overall total of 88 COVID-19 cases reported in the United States as of Monday morning. With nine patients listed as having recovered, and two having died, that means there are 77 active cases. Those numbers also suggest that the U.S. isn’t going to find any magic bullet when it comes to severity of infections or the overall outcomes. Sorry.
Many of the cases continue to be connected with travel (such as the first case in Rhode Island), associated with travelers returning from Italy or other areas where the disease has become epidemic. However, in several areas, particularly California and Washington, there are clear indications of community spread. That appears to extend to at least six cases in both locations. Also worth noting is that these early cases in both locations include healthcare workers. That’s a repeat of the pattern seen around the world as normal operations in emergency rooms and clinics do not protect against a novel infectious disease.
In addition to the King County, Washington, and Santa Clara County, California, clusters, there was a second positive test in Oregon. Florida also reported its first two cases, but it’s not clear if these represent community spread, returning travelers, or something in between. Florida certainly is an area where there are clusters of people that are at high risk.
COVID-19: States with known cases of COVID-19
For the moment, I’ve left off states such as Texas, where there are patients being treated in isolated conditions with no known spread to the community, but I have included states such as Rhode Island, where the single identified case came in from outside the country. This is arbitrary, but anywhere the line is drawn, it’s not going to be perfect.
I’ve given St. Louis a pin today because 20 people have been asked to self-isolate while testing is conducted after they displayed possible symptoms. But really, there’s nothing special about St. Louis except that I live there, so I heard this report on local news. Similar situations are happening across the country.
This map is … weak. However, I’ll look to improve it over the coming days and turn it into something that may provide you with value in evaluating the relative risk in your local area. But be clear—there is no clear black-and-white line on this map. Practice those good habits.
The CDC has now both begun issuing new tests and authorized additional regional and local labs to do testing. So do not be surprised if the numbers jump suddenly simply because cases now floating out there unidentified become numbers under expanded testing.
Don’t be embarrassed to be that person buying extra Cheetos (you can have mine, I don’t eat them anyway). And stop touching your face.
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