There are two futures for a pandemic like Corona, fast and slow. Which future we will see depends on how we all react to it in the early days of the outbreak.
A fast pandemic will be horrible and cost many lives; a slow pandemic will not be remembered by the history books.
The worst case scenario for a fast pandemic begins with a very rapid rate of infections because there are no counter measures in place to slow it down. Why is this so bad?
In a fast pandemic, many people get sick at the same time. If the numbers get too large, health care systems become unable to handle it. There aren’t enough resources, like medical staff of equipment like ventilators, left to help everybody. People will die untreated.
And as more health care workers get sick themselves, the capacity of health care systems falls even further. If this becomes the case, then horrible decisions will have to be made about who gets to live and who doesn’t. The number of deaths rises significantly in such a scenario.
To avoid this, the world – that means all of us – needs to do what it can to turn this into a slow pandemic. A pandemic is slowed by the right responses, especially in the early phase. So that everyone who gets sick can get treatment and there’s no crunch point with overwhelmed hospitals.
Since we don’t have a vaccine for Corona, we have to socially engineer our behaviour, to act like a social vaccine. This simply means two things:
Although it sounds trivial, the very best thing you can do is to wash your hands. The soap is actually a powerful tool.
The corona virus is encases in what is basically a layer of fat; soap breaks that fat apart and leaves it unable to infect you. It also makes your hands slippery, and with the mechanical motions of washing, viruses are ripped away.
To do it properly, wash your hands as if you’ve just cut up some Jalapeños and want to put your contact lenses next. The next thing is social distancing, which is not a nice experience, but a nice thing to do. This means: no hugging, no handshakes.
If you can stay at home, stay at home to protect those who need to be out for society to function; from doctors to cashiers, or police officers. You depend on all of them; they all depend on you to not get sick.
On a larger level, there are quarantines, which can mean different things, from travel restrictions or actual orders to stay at home. Quarantines are not great to experience and certainly not popular. But they buy us the researchers working on medication and vaccinations crucial time.
So if you are put under quarantine, you should understand why, and respect it. None of this is fun. But looking at the big picture, it is a really small price to pay.
The question of how pandemics end, depends on how they start; if they start fast with a steep slope, they end badly. If they start slow, with a not-so-steep slope, they end okay-ish.
And in this day and age, it really is in all of our hands. Literally, and figuratively.