Someone, find Thomas Hunter and wake him up because the world is grinding to a pandemic halt without him.
You may not have gotten my obscure reference to Ted Dekker’s Circle Series, but unless you have genuinely been asleep and adventuring in another world, you’ve most definitely heard about the pandemic that’s bringing the world to a halt. You probably have even begun to feel the effects of the coronavirus or “COVID-19.”
I know I’m feeling it here in Los Angeles and even The Rebelution’s very own Katherine Forster was sent home from college as, doubtless, many of you were.
This all seems to be happening so fast. It was only six (six!) days ago that the NBA shocked us all by suspending it’s 2019-20 season until further notice, and subsequently forfeiting approximately $500 million in ticket sales alone. Nearly every major sport, late-night talk show, music event, and the like has followed suit.
These are weird times. Everything feels uncertain, unfamiliar, scary, and pretty confusing. People are being sent home from school, college, and even their jobs. Toilet paper–of all things!–is running low, grocery stores are empty, and Tom Hanks (an American national treasure) has been quarantined in Australia for a week.
I wanted to break it down as much as possible both to give you the quick facts as well as to point you to more reliable sources to stay up-to-date and informed about COVID-19.
[And here’s an article from our founder, Brett Harris, about how we should respond.]
Below, I’ve detailed a pile of facts and a handful of stats and loads of links and resources for you to check out. You can either read through the entire article or skim around and catch what you want to learn about.
Let’s start with the basics.
What is COVID-19 and why should I care?
If you’re like me, you’ve probably been confused as to what’s the difference between coronavirus, COVID-19, and the regular flu. It’s actually not that complicated.
COVID-19 is short-hand for “Coronavirus disease 2019” and it’s caused by a novel respiratory virus (SARS-CoV-2) that spreads from person to person (CDC, “COVID-19 (and you)”). SARS-CoV-2 is the newest of only a handful of known coronaviruses (which include the past outbreaks of SARS-CoV and MERS). “Novel” simply refers to the fact that the virus has never been seen before and thus has no vaccine, and “respiratory” means it infects the respiratory system. Simple enough so far, right?
On March 12, the World Health Organization or WHO (an agency of the United Nations concerned with world public health) officially declared COVID-19 a “pandemic.” A “pandemic” is simply an epidemic that “occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population” (Mirriam-Webster).
And on March 13, U.S. President Donald Trump declared the pandemic a national emergency (White House).
As we’ll see, the entire world from China to Italy to billion dollar businesses like the NBA and NCAA are taking this pandemic very seriously, and so should we.
Where did it come from and how does it spread?
COVID-19 was first identified in the city of Wuhan, China and most likely spread from animals into humans at a wild animal market. From there, it has been spreading from person-to-person.
The virus is not air-borne, but rather spreads by respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. This means you can pick it up by interacting closely with someone who is carrying it or by touching your mouth, nose, or eyes after touching a contaminated surface (CDC). It is possible to carry and spread the virus even if you don’t show symptoms of having it.
This is why basic hygiene, such as washing your hands, coughing and sneezing into your elbow or a tissue, regularly sterilizing frequently used surfaces, and practicing social distancing can be key to slowing the spread of the virus.
How serious is COVID-19?
It’s too early to be able to say exactly how serious COVID-19 will be, but according to a summary in the CDC’s Public Health Media Library, most known cases of COVID-19 have not been severe. However, according to the WHO-China joint mission, 14% of cases can become severe (NPR). And for the elderly and immunocompromised, it can be even more dangerous.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the world’s leading experts on infectious diseases and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned that “Younger people should be concerned for two reasons. You are not immune or safe from getting seriously ill… There are going to be people who are young who are going to wind up getting seriously ill,” he said on CNN’s ‘State of the Union’. “So, protect yourself. But, remember, you could also be a vector or a carrier. And even though you don’t get seriously ill, you could bring it to your grandfather, your grandmother, or your elderly relative.”
The incubation period (the time it takes for symptoms to show after infection) for COVID-19 is 3 to 7 days with the longest incubation being up to 2 weeks, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. The NCBI also notes that on average, the epidemic has doubled every 7 days. This rate of transmission will likely decrease as attempts to contain the virus are put into place (Healthline).
According to the Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases map developed by John Hopkins University, there are 182,407 confirmed cases worldwide in 155 countries or regions and 7,154 have resulted in death (see also the WHO “Situation Report”). Although this is still relatively low compared to H1N1’s final statistics, we’re still early on in discovering the full extent of the virus’s reach and the 4% global mortality rate is alarmingly high (compared to H1N1’s 0.02%; ABC).
On a positive note, nearly 80,000 cases have been reported as “recovered” (John Hopkins).
Isn’t the seasonal flu much worse?
Simply put, no. While the numbers of people affected by the flu are significantly greater than COVID-19 (at this point), SARS-CoV-2 spreads much faster than the flu and has a greater mortality rate (see Healthline and Bluffton, Ohio Fatality Modeling).
The CDC estimates the flu infected 45 million people and killed 61,000 during the 2017-18 flu season. That’s a mortality rate of 0.13%, at least 15 times lower than COVID-19. If COVID-19 would infect an equal number of people, nearly a million would die.
How can COVID-19 be cured?
There is currently no vaccine for COVID-19, but according to the Associated Press, the U.S. government was set to start clinical trials on Monday, March 16.
Since there is yet no vaccine for the virus, however, the only way to prevent further outbreak is to continue proper hygiene (handwashing, coughing into your elbow, etc) and practicing social distancing (staying six to ten feet away from each other and staying at home as much as possible).
People have been referring to these measures as “flattening the curve,” which refers to lowering the spike of confirmed cases on the y axis of a graph, thus creating a flatter curve.
Our #FlattenTheCurve graphic is now up on @Wikipedia with proper attribution & a CC-BY-SA licence. Please share far & wide and translate it into any language you can! Details in the thread below. #Covid_19 #COVID2019 #COVID19 #coronavirus Thanks to @XTOTL & @TheSpinoffTV pic.twitter.com/BQop7yWu1Q
— Dr Siouxsie Wiles (@SiouxsieW) March 10, 2020
In simple terms, it means keeping the virus from spreading as much as possible.
What’s the point of “flattening the curve”?
There are two points. The first is that keeping the virus from spreading to others, particularly those who are already vulnerable, could literally save lives. And since this is a new virus and none of us have built up immunities to it nor will we have a vaccine for months to come, flattening the curve is our best option to save those lives.
Second, even if flattening the curve doesn’t stop the virus all together, it could delay the spreading of COVID-19 and avoid overloading our healthcare system. If we all get sick at once, hospitals and clinics (most of which are already running at max capacity) will be overrun, such as happened in Italy where they have needed to make tough decisions about who to treat and who to let die (New York Times).
To learn more about “flattening the curve,” check out Vox’s in-depth explanation.
How does COVID-19 compare to other pandemics?
You’ve likely learned about the Spanish Flu from studying history in school and perhaps even remember the 2009 outbreak of a related strain known as “The Swine Flu.” These were both strains of H1N1.
The 2009 outbreak of H1N1 started in Mexico (according to Wikipedia). In June of 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared H1N1 a pandemic and then-President Obama declared a National Emergency (see archive article from the Daily Herald). These are both actions that have been taken for COVID-19. (H1N1 is commonly referred to as “The Swine Flu,” but technically, any flu that passes through pigs is a “swine flu,” see Wikipedia article on Swine Influenza.)
All in all, H1N1 (a novel virus at the time) had a global death rate of 0.02% (ABC). (For comparison, current estimates put the global death rate of COVID-19 at 4%, per the WHO). The CDC estimates “that from April 12, 2009 to April 10, 2010 approximately 60.8 million cases, 274,304 hospitalizations, and 12,469 deaths occurred in the United States due to pH1N1” (CDC). These are low to average estimates.
(If COVID-19 reached similar levels of confirmed cases and maintained the same mortality rate, we’d be looking at roughly 2.5 million deaths in the U.S. alone by this time next year. That’s a death toll 200 times greater than H1N1. Again, these are hypothetical numbers based off of conservative estimates of H1N1. We have yet to see how COVID-19 will play out.)
In the end, although it was very serious at the time and a global pandemic, H1N1 is now considered a typical seasonal flu which you can get vaccinated for (CDC).
The Spanish Flu of 1918
The Spanish Flu of 1918 is considered the most severe pandemic in recent history, infecting approximately one third (500 million) of the global population at the time and killing 20-50 million of those infected, particularly among young children and the elderly. The flu is thought to have spread by soldiers returning home from World War 1 (CDC, “1918 Pandemic (H1N1 virus)”).
Another pandemic you’re more likely to remember was the Ebola outbreak in 2014 originating in West Africa.
Ebola Viruses is another set of viruses akin to influenza and coronaviruses, but causing different symptoms. While H1N1 and COVID-19 are respiratory illnesses primarily identified by coughs, sore throats, or runny noses, the ebola virus disease is known more for terrible vomiting, diarrhea, and rashes.
Although the most severe Ebola outbreak happened just in 2014-2016, the WHO reports 24 outbreaks between 1976 and 2013 (Wikipedia: Ebola Virus Disease) and the chances of contracting ebola remains extremely rare.
The Black Plague (or Bubonic Plague or Black Death)
Perhaps the most famous pandemic and one of the most devastating in known history was “The Black Plague.” The Plague, as it is often referred to in history, peaked from 1347 to 1351, with only occasional outbreaks up until the 20th century (Wikipedia: The Black Death).
The plague is estimated to have killed between 30-60% of Europe’s population. And it helped establish the practice of “quarantining” (isolating) people as a method of slowing the spread of viral diseases.
Interestingly, according to the BBC, in 1603 Shakespeare’s play company was forced to go on the road after London theaters were closed due to the plague. And during Sir Isaac Newton’s time, Cambridge University sent students home as a result of the Great Plague.
How are governments responding to COVID-19?
In about six weeks time, Chinese cases of COVID-19 went from 1,000 to 80,000 (per Forbes). China responded by using its military to quarantine the city of Wuhan and eventually the entire province of Hebei and it’s 60 million citizens on January 23. And, according to the NY Daily News, the Chinese government has “confined residents to their homes, allowing one person only in each household to go outdoors to purchase supplies…”
As a result of the quarantine, the Chinese are now on the backside of the epidemic curve.
South Korea responded with quick action by almost immediately testing up to 12,000 cases a day via efficient drive-through clinics.
“South Korea has also set up mobile testing stations and home visits, and can conclude in a matter of hours whether someone has been infected. Even as the ranks of the infected swelled by several thousand, the aggressive testing has given health officials here the ability to spot outbreaks as they emerge, focus resources on those areas and isolate those with the potential to spread the virus” (per the L.A. Times).
Other than China, no country has been hit worse than Italy.
In just under three weeks, Italy went from 20 to 12,000 cases (Forbes). The Italian government has forbidden it’s people to gather in public, shut down any huge events, and closed their schools and universities (the BBC).
At this point, Italy has nearly 28,000 confirmed cases, 2,700 of which have resulted in recovery and 2,100 in death, according to the John Hopkins case map).
Many other European countries, including Spain and France, are headed toward some form of lock down, closed borders, or other drastic measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.
In the United States, nearly every state and region (minus West Virginia for some reason!) has reported cases of COVID-19. In total, there are 4,661 cases with 85 deaths (John Hopkins). Currently, that’s roughly a 2% death rate in the U.S. However, that percentage could go down as more people are tested and active cases confirmed.
As I briefly mentioned earlier, nearly every professional American sports league has suspended or canceled their games until further notice and many other entertainment events, conferences, and other large gatherings have followed suit.
To prevent a total upheaval of the economy, the Federal Reserve has announced it has cut interest rates to zero. This could help prevent a similar crash as the one in 2008, according to CNN.
By declaring a National Emergency on March 13, the President freed up resources and lowered legal barriers for government agencies to begin responding to the crisis.
Federal, state, and local public health laboratories have begun testing for the virus that causes COVID-19 and foreign nationals from China, Iran, and most of Europe have been banned from traveling to the USA. This ban does not apply to Americans returning home (per the DHS).
“As of the evening of March 10, 79 state and local public health labs in 50 states and the District of Columbia have successfully verified and are currently using CDC COVID-19 diagnostic tests. Combined with other reagents that CDC has procured, there are enough testing kits to test more than 75,000 people” (from the CDC’s “Situation Summary”).
The White House also announced on March 17 that they are looking into sending American workers cash, in an effort to stimulate the economy (Washington Post).
A sobering math experiment to put it all in perspective
Jason Warner suggests, in his Facebook-post-turned-Medium-article, we do a short math exercise to put some of these numbers into perspective. I did it for Los Angeles County and I was blown away.
Here it is, slightly edited, along with the stats for my home county of Los Angeles:
“To further understand exponential growth, take the number of confirmed cases in your area and multiply by 10 (or 50 if you believe Harvard and Massachusetts General estimations) to account for the cases that are not yet confirmed. If you have no confirmed cases choose a small number. I’d suggest 10, if no cases are yet reported. This number of infected people doubles every ~3 days as the infection spreads. So literally take your number, and multiply by 2. Then do it again. Then do it again. Then do it again. Do this multiplication exercise 10 times in total.
“2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x (the number of estimated infections in your city today (not just the reported cases)).
“This result is the estimate for the actual cases in your area 30 days from now. The math will take 30 seconds to complete with a calculator and it’s worth doing the math to see how it grows. This end number is the number of cases in your city 30 days from today if a large percentage of the population do not practice social distancing.
“2 to the 10th power is 1024. When something doubles 10 times, it’s the same as multiplying by 1024. The infection rate of the virus doubles every 3 days. In thirty days there will be 1,024 times the number of infected people in your area as there is today if your community does not immediately put social distancing into practice. One thousand and twenty four times as many infected people as there is today, in just 30 days.”
(For Los Angeles County, it comes to 962,560.)
“Next, divide the final number (the scary big one) you just calculated by the current population of your city and you will be able to get the percentage of people THAT YOU KNOW PERSONALLY who will be infected 30 days from now.”
(For L.A. County, that’s 9.6% of the population.)
“THIS PART IS IMPORTANT: Next take 15% (multiply by 0.15) of that final 30 day number of total infected people (the number you calculated by multiplying by 2 ten times). This will provide an estimate of the serious cases which will require hospitalization, and compare it to the number of beds and ventilators available at your local hospital. Google the “number of beds” and the name of your local hospital now. It takes 2 seconds and the number of beds is easy to find. 65% of beds are already occupied by patients unrelated to the coronavirus… Most hospitals have on average, 40 or fewer ventilators. 5% of patients require ICU treatment. There are very few ICU beds compared to regular beds in hospitals. There are very few negative pressure areas in any hospital to deal with the containment of airborne diseases.”
(For L.A. County, that would be 144,384 serious cases. The top best hospitals in the greater L.A. area combine to have 5,256 staffed beds.)
“These numbers you just calculated are the Big Problem: Too many patients, not enough beds, and a serious shortage of ventilators (the biggest problem) if we don’t immediately begin social distancing.”
So, what should we do about it?
First of all, don’t panic. The virus is fast and deadly to many and the need to stop it is urgent in order to not overrun our healthcare systems and save lives.
But at the same time, most of us will live through this and many of us won’t experience the severity of COVID-19. We’re not all going to die, but some will and we should strive to make that number as low as possible.
It will be painful, there will be loss, but we will get through this.
A number of excellent pieces have already addressed how to do this. TheReb‘s founder, Brett Harris has written an article about how we should respond and Isabelle Ingalls wrote about what Christian faith looks like during the coronavirus.
Many people are forced to stay home from work and some businesses may have to close their doors permanently. The economy has been taking a hit and no one really knows what the long term effects on the economy will be.
Very few people can actually afford to stay quarantined for weeks on end. Some people (like the 60,000 homeless people in L.A. County) don’t even have anywhere to be quarantined.
So those of us who can manage it, even if barely, should do our part.
In order to, we’ll have to band together (at a six foot distance, of course).
Be gracious and patient toward everyone. Love your neighbor. If your neighbor hates you, find a way to social distance-ly love him anyways. Check-in on the elderly or immunocompromised to see if they need anything (since it’s a dangerous time for them to be out and about). Don’t hoard anything, but share as you can.
Don’t go out unless you have to; wash your hands; try not to touch your face. Find creative ways to support your local businesses.
Encourage each other, pray for each other, and SHARE YOUR TOILET PAPER.
If you need anything at all, leave us a comment. We’ll do our best to answer questions or encourage you any way we can.
Resources to read up on COVID-19, the measures being taken, and what you should do about it:
- “Bluffton, Ohio COVID-19 Fatality Modelling”
- Public Health Media Library from the CDC
- John Hopkins article on the difference between “the flu” and COVID-19
- “Estimating Risk for Death from 2019 Novel Coronavirus Disease, China, January–February 2020”
- “Rolling updates on coronavirus disease (COVID-19)” – COVID-19 events as they happen
- “The Sober Math Everyone Must Understand about the Pandemic”
- “How canceled events and self-quarantines save lives, in one chart”