Day 7: Testing, testing….

Virginia saw a 44% increase in confirmed COVID19 cases overnight, and nationwide the tally climbed over 329,000.  My university begins remote instruction tomorrow, and there’s a surreal quality to the quiet in our normally bustling college town. Nearly everyone I know is self-isolating, working from home, minimizing their time outside the house, and avoiding F2F socializing. There are exceptions — some college students who are still seen roaming around in packs, a very full parking lot at the grocery store, but mostly people here seem to realize that we need to avoid each other in order to keep ourselves  and others healthy.

COVID19 Cases in Virginia 3-22-20
219 Confirmed Cases of COVID19 in Virginia as of March 22, 2020. From The VA Dept. of Health: http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/

It’s the “others” piece, I think some are struggling with. I have heard people grumble that the response to the virus is overblown, that it’s threatening our freedom and ruining the economy, that it isn’t that bad, and that some conspiratorial force is behind the hype. There are about 327 million people in the United States, so why are we so worked up about a few (400 and climbing) deaths? Won’t it just die out on its own when the weather warms up?

I encourage people with those questions to watch this video of Dr. Emily Landon, the chief infectious disease epidemiologist at University of Chicago Medicine.  Dr. Landon has some terrific insight about why self-isolating is so necessary and effective, and why self-isolating is something we do for others — especially the older and more vulnerable among us — as much as for ourselves. The relevant statistic isn’t what percentage of the population has the virus, it’s the percentage of those people who need ventilators at the same time.

It’s possible that so many people wouldn’t need to be locked down, nationally, if the administration had mounted a vigorous and extensive testing program several weeks ago. But they didn’t. Indeed tests are still in such short supply that all we know for certain is that there are many thousands of undocumented cases out there.  I  personally know several people who have been sick and could not be tested.  Did they recover, yes. Was the illness “just the flu”  — no. It was worse. It lasted longer and was more intense.

For an example of what will happen when the contagion affects too many people at once, just look at Italy, where 5,476 people have died from COVID19, 793 of them yesterday.

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