COVID-19 It’s ALL About the Numbers (just multiply by 2)

Tuesday, March 24 – fifty thousand Americans have a confirmed case of COVID-19 today, and, even if drastic action is taken TOMORROW then in two weeks there will almost certainly be ONE MILLION infected just in the U.S. (see below for the math) and we will be out of hospital ICU beds.

calendar pixabay from MaeM
Calendar image from pixabay from MaeM


Despite what your friends in high school said, you really can use algebra and all that other numerical nonsense in real life. (I taught differential equations to engineers.) But the numbers aren’t even algebra, let along geometry or trig.

President Trump is looking at the numbers in the Stock Market and sees that the only thing he can point to as an accomplishment is the economy. So naturally, he wants to do what the big business owners are asking him to do, while the conservative talk show hosts want him to continue to call it a hoax.

COVID-19 It's ALL About the Numbers (just multiply by 2) 1
COVID-19 Pandemic Virus – artists impression

The Medicine

Dr. Fauci and all the other epidemiologists or even just emergency management coordinators (one of my jobs for 25 years) look at the fact that Covid-19 spreads fast with each person infected on average infecting three more very quickly – not his/her fault because you can infect others long before you know you were infected.

If you were a physicist (I’ll admit it, that’s why I was able to teach advanced math to engineers, I trained as a physicist), then you would recognize that multiplication factor is exactly what was found at Los Alamos and makes atomic bombs work.

But that multiplication factor of 3 people infected for each original infection, means the virus will spread at what is called an exponential rate. You don’t need to really understand exponentials any more than realizing that the number of infected, and eventually the number who die, will go up by 1/3 or 1.33X every day, in other words, the number will double every three days on average.

You have probably seen the charts politicians and even doctors keep pointing to on TV but unless you understand some fairly advanced math, you really don’t instantly understand what the charts mean.

So, I will use plain, simple numbers which should make the threat clear.

COVID-19 The Numbers

As I write this there are 50,000 U.S. confirmed infected on March 24th, that rate of spread means there will be 100,000 infected in three days on the 27th, a total of 200,000 by Monday, March 30, 400,000 by Apr 2 800,000 by Apr. 5, and ONE MILLION infected will be infected in 2 weeks just in the U.S. and JUST the official, tested individuals.

Coronavirus map

These are theoretical, but not in any sense of being possible but not proven.

We already saw these exact numbers in Italy, we are seeing them in the UK and in New York City. In Italy they began to slow down because they ran out of new people to be infected, not because of some treatment or cure, there are just a lot more people in the U.S.

In fact, the only two places the numbers became less dramatically bad were in China which completely locked down the infected areas and arrested anyone breaking quarantine or South Korea which sent teams out to hotels and apartment buildings, and set up police road blocks so they essentially tested EVERYONE and isolated those carrying the infection.

Every place which either did nothing or did some half-assed partial lockdown it got worse and it always got worse in exactly the same way – the number infected doubled every three years.

With one million infected in two weeks, every hospital ICU bed will have a critically ill person in it and every powered ventilator in the U.S., including every machine in the government “stockpile,” will be in use.

COVID Triage – granddad goes to the tent in the parking lot!

What do you think happens when your 70-year-old wife/husband, or father, or grandma starts having trouble breathing and you take them to the ER?

The medical term is triage, from a french word trier (separate out) and, originally, triage (the action of sorting things according to their quality).

What it means in real life is that when two critically ill people show up at the ER and there is only one ICU bed available, the doctors will look first at whether one is going to die anyway even with treatment.

If both are equally likely to survive but ONLY if they go to the ICU immediately, then the triage doctor or sometimes triage nurse looks at the age. Younger people with a growing family will get the bed.

If both are, say 65 for example, then they will probably look at their job or how they contribute to society. If one is a heart surgeon or brain surgeon then they don’t even bother to ask if the other one is retired or owns a laundromat, and so forth.

What they probably are not going to pull someone off a ventilator (aka kill them) for your loved one no matter who you are (except for congress, sports stars, the guy who built the new wing on the hospital, or the president, of course).

I’ll leave it to you to guess what happens to someone who can’t breathe and can’t be put on a power ventilator but it involves putting them in that tent in the parking lot and perhaps giving them an oxygen mask if there are any available.

My latest articles about the pandemic threat.