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Coronavirus: How long will social distancing last?

I’ll be honest with you. This is not the video that I wanted to make. I was working on a very cool project, but I had to put in in the back burner to make this one.

I had to make this video because I’m seeing so much controversy online about whether or not we need social distancing, so much uncertainty about our future, and so much confusion about how long this is going to last.

There’s too much information going around. Some is right and some is wrong. Some is based on actual data and some is pure speculation. Different statistical models arrive to different conclusions. Even experts disagree on some key issues. All this creates a lot of confusion.

Some people are saying this is just like the flu and it isn’t a big deal. Other people are saying that this is basically the end of the world as we know it.

I think the truth is somewhere in the middle, and we have much more control over this situation than we think.

I’ll share with you my analysis of the situation, but I’m not here to tell you what to do. I’m here to give you information so you can make the best decisions for you and your family.

What makes Coronavirus so dangerous is how easily it spreads. The metric we use to measure how contagious viruses are is known as R nought.

The R nought value of Coronavirus is around 2. That means that every person who gets it is likely to pass it to two other people.

In Italy and New York, cases have been doubling every two or three days. At that rate, 100 cases today can become 100,000 cases in a month.

We can’t eliminate Coronavirus. It’s here to stay, just like measles or chicken pox. But unlike these other viruses, we don’t have a vaccine for Coronavirus yet. Until we do, our goal is to slow down its spread so our healthcare system has enough resources to take care of people who require hospitalization.

This dotted line represents the resources we have available to treat infected people: hospital beds, respirators, doctors and nurses.

Without protective measures, the spread will happen fast and many people will die due to a lack of proper care. That’s what’s happening in Italy. Doctors are having to decide who gets a respirator and who doesn’t; who gets to live and who gets to die.

But with protective measures, Coronavirus will spread much more slowly, allowing everyone to get the care they need.

Coronavirus will continue killing people, but it’s up to us how many.

With protective measures, the total number of deaths expected in the US is 200,000. Without protective measures, that number is 1.7 million. That means that in the US alone, learning how to protect ourselves can save 1.5 million lives.

As you might now, Coronavirus mostly spreads from person to person when someone infected coughs or sneezes. That means that the best way slow down the spread is to stay 6 feet away from other people.

You’ve probably heard the term “social distancing” a thousand times by now, so let’s see what we can learn from countries that implemented it and countries that didn’t.

Take a look at the number of daily new cases in China. It was growing fast, but when they implemented a total lockdown, it plummeted. Compare that with countries like Italy, Iran and Spain that didn’t implement social distancing right away.

Now, let me say this. I get it. Social distancing sucks! We want to see our friends and family. We want to work and keep the economy strong.

But Coronavirus is here and we can’t pretend it isn’t. We need to be smart about our choices. We have two options: we can deal with a big problem now, or a much bigger problem later.

Every day we delay social distancing, we increase the number of cases by 40%. So the sooner we start, the sooner we can contain the spread, get it under control, and return to our “normal” lives.

I want to answer two of the most important questions I see people asking:

1. How long can we expect social distancing to last?

2. How strict does it need to be? Are we supposed to stay home for months?

We need protective measures until we reach “herd immunity.” Herd immunity means that we, as a society, are well protected against the virus. That’s when we manage to get the R nought factor to 1 or less. We do that by immunizing half of our population. The base R nought of 2 becomes 1 when 50% of the population is immune.

One way to become immune to the virus is to get it. Most experts agree that after having the virus once, we’re unlikely to get it again, at least for a few years.

The other way is through a vaccine. Experts predict that in about 12 months we’ll have a vaccine to immunize the elder and people with weaker immune systems. If we limit the amount of social interaction we have during that period, we’ll minimize the number of people who require hospitalization and avoid exceeding our healthcare system’s capacity.

A healthcare system working properly or being overwhelmed is the difference between a 5% death rate and a 0.5% death rate. It’s the difference between 200,000 deaths and 2 million.

Until we reach herd immunity, we need to avoid 1. getting the virus and 2. passing it to others.

Staying at home is the best way to do that. If we can stay home, we should. At least for a couple of weeks to keep this problem as small as possible.

As we slow down the spread, I expect lockdowns to gradually loosen up. When that happens, we’ll see the virus re-surge in some areas. My prediction is that we’ll transition from worldwide lockdowns to regional governments reinstating social distancing only in areas with new outbreaks.

I think there’s a fine line between being cautious and being paranoid. We don’t need to live in fear. We need to be smart and make informed decisions.

If you’re able to leave the house and go for a walk without getting close to other people or touching surfaces that might be infected, I think it’s a good way to clear your mind and get some exercise. I live in Oregon so I’ve been hiking daily, and it’s been great for my mental health.

As far as seeing other people, we’re social animals and we can’t be locked down for a whole year. Eventually, we’ll want to start seeing people again, so we’ll have to do it safely.

I’ve seen people at the park hanging out a few feet apart, and although I’m personally choosing to wait a couple of weeks to do something like that, I think it’s great how, as a society, we’re finding creative and safe ways to take our lives back.

My prediction is that it’s going to be a while before we can attend concerts or sports events, but probably only a few weeks before we can go back to work, and see our friends and families.

We need to accept the fact that life will be very different in the near future, but I’m confident that we’ll adapt and get through it together.

Don’t let fear take over your life. You don’t need fear. You don’t need stress. You need to stay safe and make informed decisions.

Sources:
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/13/us/coronavirus-deaths-estimate.html
https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/world/corona-simulator/
https://medium.com/@tomaspueyo/coronavirus-act-today-or-people-will-die-f4d3d9cd99ca
https://youtu.be/-LKVUarhtvE