Scientific America for full article.

Excerpts:

“Preparing for the almost inevitable global spread of this virus, now dubbed COVID-19, is one of the most pro-social, altruistic things you can do in response to potential disruptions of this kind.

We should prepare, not because we may feel personally at risk, but so that we can help lessen the risk for everyone. We should prepare ..because we can alter every aspect of this risk we face as a society.

“…your neighbors need you to prepare—especially your elderly neighbors, your neighbors who work at hospitals, your neighbors with chronic illnesses, and your neighbors who may not have the means or the time to prepare because of lack of resources or time…”

..”As a species, we live and die by our social world and our extensive infrastructure—and there is no predicting what anybody needs in the face of total catastrophe.”

“the real crisis scenarios we’re likely to encounter require cooperation and, crucially, “flattening the curve” the only path to flattening the curve for COVID-19 is community-wide isolation of the crisis exactly so the more vulnerable can fare better, so that our infrastructure will be less stressed at any one time.

What does “flattening the curve” mean for the current COVID-19 threat facing us: the emerging pandemic of this human coronavirus?

“.. epidemiological numbers are not fixed or immutable. ….By preparing now, we can alter both of those key numbers and save many lives.”

The infectiousness of a virus…depends on how much we encounter one another; how well we quarantine individuals who are ill; how often we wash our hands; whether those treating the ill have proper protective equipment; how healthy we are to begin with—and such factors are all under our control.

“… if we can slow the transmission of the disease—flatten its curve—there will be many lives saved even if the same number of people eventually get sick, because everyone won’t show up at the hospital all at once. Plus.. there is more time to develop a vaccine or find antivirals that help.”

“…Here’s what we know: no doubt to the relief of parents everywhere, this disease is mild to nonexistent in children. There are almost no pediatric deaths and very few kids even seem to fall sick (though children may still be having clinically barely detectable cases, thus infecting others).

On the other hand, for the elderly or for people who have other diseases or comorbidities, it’s very serious, with death rates reaching up to 15%.

It’s also a great threat to health workers who handle people with the virus every day, with thousands of cases already.

Overall, it appears to have a case fatality rate around 2%, which is certainly very serious: seasonal flu, a serious threat in and of itself, has a case fatality rate around 0.1 percent in the United States, so this coronavirus is about 20 times as deadly (though again, this number may get much better or worse depending on the kind of care we can provide).*

There are also enough examples of mild or barely symptomatic COVID-19 cases and a long enough incubation period that this disease will almost certainly not be contained: we can’t expect to reliably detect everyone who’s ill and infectious, as we could with the SARS 2003 epidemic where the victims always exhibited high fever and thus were easier to identify and isolate.

the only path to flattening the curve for COVID-19 is community-wide isolation

All of this means that the only path to flattening the curve for COVID-19 is community-wide isolation: the more people stay home, the fewer people will catch the disease. The fewer people who catch the disease, the better hospitals can help those who do. Crowding at hospitals doesn’t just threaten those with COVID-19; if emergency rooms are overwhelmed, more flu patients, too, will die because of lack of treatment, for example.

“..there are only so many delivery workers and while deliveries are better than people going shopping, it’s still a risk to everyone involved. So if fewer people need deliveries, then fewer people will get sick, and more people who need help such as the elderly can still get deliveries as the services will be less overwhelmed.

Here’s what all this means in practice: get a flu shot, if you haven’t already, and stock up supplies at home so that you can stay home for two or three weeks, going out as little as possible. The flu shot helps decrease the odds of having to go to the hospital for the flu, or worse yet, get both flu and COVID-19; comorbidities drastically worsen outcomes.

Staying home without needing deliveries means that not only are you less likely to get sick, thus freeing up hospitals for more vulnerable populations, it means that you are less likely to infect others (while you may be having a mild case, you can still infect an elderly person or someone with cancer or another significant illness) and you allow delivery personnel to help out others.

“..here’s a handy, one-page guide on what you need, with up-to-date information on top..essentially this: potable water (that’s a general just-in-case item for all emergencies), shelf-stable food (no need for refrigeration..), your prescription medication and a few basic medical supplies (first aid/your usual over-the-counter meds).

“..  don’t worry if you cannot find masks…are most important for health care workers. For non–health care people, washing your hands often, using alcohol-based hand-sanitizer liberally and learning not to touch your face are the most important clinically-proven interventions there are (and teaching this to kids is priceless, as they may well be healthy but they are quite the germ vectors!). Clinical studies show amazing results to just washing hands regularly and well (at least 20 seconds!). ..don’t sneeze or cough on people!

“..food, you can just buy 2 or 3 weeks’ worth of shelf-stable food..canned food like beans and vegetables, pasta, rice, cereals or oats, oils/fats, nuts and dried fruits. 

“..have some potable water in the house just in case there is some sort of temporary hiccup.

A portable power bank for your phone that is kept charged is similarly generally useful anyway.

If you need prescription or other medications, it’s a good idea to stock up if possible—if for no other reason than to avoid pharmacies, both to reduce their burden and also to not be in the same line as people who may be ill.”

“As a society, there are much larger conversations to be had: about the way our health care industry runs, for example. How to handle global risks in our increasingly interconnected world. How to build resilient communities. How to reduce travel for work.”

Read more about the coronavirus outbreak here.