Part 1: Understanding a Pandemic
How does a virus spread? While an infected person (host) is actively contagious, they shed virus cells which can be picked up by others. They may show symptoms while shedding, though they may not. Shedding duration varies by disease.
How does THIS one spread? COVID-19 is a particularly challenging disease because not all hosts show symptoms, and the duration of shedding is particularly long.
Who does it affect acutely? So far, we know that mortality rates are higher among older populations, especially with preexisting health conditions. Younger populations still get sick and still can spread the virus.
How does it spread? Well, germs of course. But not all germs are equal, and plenty of misinformation persists about the spreading of COVID-19. Some viruses, like influenza, become unviable outside of the host within a number of hours. Others, smallpox for example, can remain viable for years. COVID-19 is somewhere in between. It can remain outside of the host for days before becoming inactive. Factors such as moisture level, type of surface, exposure to UV all play a role here.
How fast does it spread? This is the math part that we think helps everyone better understand what’s going on. The growth rate of a pandemic is a function of inputs related to time, infections, and transmission rates. Each period of time (t) that passes we can expect the sick population at the beginning of the period (S) to be in contact with an average number of healthy people (who represent the exposed population E), and then a portion of those exposed become sick (based on a probability of infection, p). meanwhile some others have recovered. At this point the new population of sick people are known to us, and we run the math again. The equation runs on day after day until the disease stops spreading because E or p descend towards zero. It looks like this, excluding recoveries:
Infected Population = sick + (sick x newly exposed x probability of infection)
Infected Population = S + S *E *p which simplifies to = S (1+E*P)
And as a function of time we can now say: Infected Population(t) = S (1+E*P)^t
Part 2: Know How You Fit In
This is what we can all be doing our part to hone in on. Are you Sick? Can you reduce the size of the Exposed group. What about probability? When we start to think about it like this, we move away from uncertainty and panic, and into empowerment. If we can get either E or p to zero, then Covid 19 stops spreading altogether. If we cannot get them to zero, then the lower we can get E and P as a community, the slower the virus will spread...which gives our medical systems a better chance of supporting the number of cases that cannot be prevented.
If you are Sick, you self-quarantine so that you don’t expose yourself to anyone, we all probably know this already. But this simple equation sheds light on what quarantine does...it reduces E to zero which means the infected population stops growing due to that person in quarantine.
What else can be done about E? Reducing the number of exposed can be done if you’re sick by staying home, but also if you are healthy by not going out, especially into crowded places. This is why events are being canceled. But this is also why it's important to prioritize hygiene, and prevent the spread of germs. Just because you are in the presence of someone or something with exposure to COVID19, does not mean you will contract the virus. Because it is transferred via droplets, there is a preventable physical process to getting it from one person or surface to another. So while the purell hysteria rages, it’s important to realize that there is something very real to it. The more frequently hands are sanitized, the fewer opportunities exist for germs to be spread and the smaller our E becomes.
What can be done about the probability value of p? The probability of getting sick after exposure is unique to each person. If your immune system is robust, you will have a lower probability of the virus taking hold and becoming a host. Level of exposure can play a role too. Being mindful about our rest, recovery, nutrition, activity levels and types of interactions with others are all on the menu for reducing the probability value. These are tools available to all of us, and can start as simply as eating healthier, staying hydrated, and getting the right amount of sleep. Now is not the right time to be burning the candle at both ends. It seems simple, but it can make a big difference.
Part 3: Own this as a Community
My part is your part, your part is my part. By recognizing protecting one’s self and protecting those around you are one in the same, we will make it through this challenge. Can you influence E or p? If you can, even though you aren't sick, you’ll be doing something that reduces the portion of the math equation that represents COVID-19’s growth rate for your community and the entire planet . And a disease that doesn't grow, eventually goes away. That’s what we are all after. For me, the go-tos are teas for antioxidants and adaptogens. It’s fruits and berries for vitamins. Coffee because I love it, and it reminds me of home, which reduces stress. There will be popcorn, and it will have pimenton on it. Hopefully, some yoga to awaken and challenge the body and mind, and to bring me to a place of balance. And there will be my kids, being themselves, and doing what kids do. I’ll be washing my hands a lot.
A Parting Thought
We don’t trust just anyone, and neither should you...especially during times like these. Whenever we are reading something new and it feels like a revelation (good or bad), we try to take a pause and figure out where it’s coming from and if it’s verifiable. The experts we trust right now are the WHO, and the CDC.
Links we find useful: