A Sideways Glance by Richard S. Bogartz: Act as if you have the virus

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

I am writing this column about a week before it will appear so I imagine the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., 102,963, will be around 200,000 when you read this. Deaths are at 1,590 so they’ll be around 4,000. And numbers will still be rising, probably faster.

The death rate is about 1.5% and is close to the overall figure of 1.4% contained in a March 16 report by Sharon Begley of data analysis from Wuhan, China.

“The chance of someone with symptomatic COVID-19 dying varied by age, confirming other studies. For those aged 15 to 44, the fatality rate was 0.5%, though it might have been as low as 0.1% or as high as 1.3%. For people 45 to 64, the fatality rate was also 0.5%, with a possible low of 0.2% and a possible high of 1.1%. For those over 64, it was 2.7%, with a low and high estimate of 1.5% and 4.7%.”

A death rate of 1.5% might seem small, but if 80% of the population gets the virus, and the population is about 330 million, there will be about 3,960,000 deaths.

I am 83 and diabetic. If I get the virus it seems my survival probability is about .95. Naturally, this depends on whether the available medical treatment will be comparable to Wuhan’s, and whether I get triaged into the trash for lack of resources.

Harder to estimate is the probability I get the virus. With no immunity in the population, let’s suppose I continue to be excellent at keeping away from people, except for required trips to the grocery and rare contact with my equally almost-quarantining partner, and my probability of getting the virus is .80. Ignoring other causes, that brings my survival probability up to .96. If my probability of getting the virus were at .5, my survival probability would be up to .975. If a vaccine comes along in a year or so, that changes the picture.

Enough about survival. Let’s think about madness. We have a nitwit ignoramus in charge of the country’s response to a pandemic. Let that sink in. Furthermore, this nitwit is under the delusion that he knows more about anything than anyone else. Imagine the cowardice of others, the dearth of feedback, and the sheer ignorance required to support such a delusion.

A few quotes from the stable genius. On Jan. 22: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. It’s going to be just fine.”

On Feb. 2: “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China.”

On Feb. 24: “The Corona virus is very much under control in the USA… Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”

On Feb. 26: “The 15 (cases in the U.S.) within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.”

On Feb. 27: “One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”

If delusion is not your cup of tea, how about despicable viciousness. The president instructs the vice president not to contact Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer because they aren’t “appreciative” of his administration’s efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus in their states. It is hard to imagine a position, less presidential than to make help to the people of two states contingent on how their governors speak.

“All I want them to do, very simple. I want them to be appreciative. I don’t want them to say things that aren’t true. I want them to be appreciative. We’ve done a great job.” Try to imagine the desperate unquenchable craving for “appreciation” that underlies ignoring the lives of millions if you don’t get your fix.

As to great job, does that include disbanding the U.S. pandemic response team in 2018 because it was established by President Obama or turning down the offers from China and the World Health Organization to provide the U.S. with tests. Perhaps “great job” means forcing states to compete for scarce, desperately-needed equipment, thus driving prices up instead of federally unifying the purchasing and lowering prices.

Or is it the monumental ignorance that, in the face of all expert opinion to the contrary, suggests some of us should be thinking about going back to work very soon.

What can we do? We can do what we must do. We can stay home and save lives. The best advice I’ve heard is act as if you have the virus.

Richard S. Bogartz is a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts.