Social Distancing: There are two sides to this coin

All in the family gif

Social distancing is a deeply personal and public issue, and our society and much of the civilized world has chosen to close down for safety reasons.

COVID-19 is a contagious disease. Back in January when Coronavirus became international news, people were thinking the disease had an RO of 3.8. Now it’s considered to be 2.0 to 2.5 RO. (RO is mathematical for determining how quick a disease spreads and reproduces itself)

There is some wisdom to social distancing. Obviously, with such a contagious disease, we want to avoid people who are sick. If you are sick, everyone agrees, quarantine yourself. Isolate the vulnerable elderly.

That said, and I know this is going to come off as controversial in a time when most states are shut down to some extent, but I’m observing when governments force social distancing on major cities, if enough people are infected in that city, forced social distancing can dramatically drive up case and death toll #’s as families huddle together, like we’re seeing in New York City.

Allow me to explain.

The current epicenter of Coronavirus cases in America is in Corona (Queens), NY. That’s an interesting enough coincidence, and it got me digging into demographics and trends.

Corona (Queens) was the fictional setting for the 1970’s television show ‘All in the Family’, which at the time was a cultural blockbuster hit, with over 60 million Americans tuning in to watch each week.

The opening credits of All in the Family had Archie and Edith Bunker singing the opening show theme as the camera hovered over New York City, eventually zooming into Queens, and ending at the Bunker House. Can see the opening theme on the below GIF. And as an All in the Family fan, I’ve been to the Bunker house that was used in the credits.

Two weeks ago I began arguing that the trends show Coronavirus clusters were showing up in densely populated residential areas. The All in the Family opening (into Corona) credits shows exactly what I’m talking about.

Higher case trends in the New Orleans region is another example. After mass crowds were shoulder to shoulder at Mardi Gras in February, the locals went back to their homes not far away and mostly spread the virus to family members.

The media doesn’t talk about this, but it’s become clear to doctors in NYC (who are learning more and more about Coronavirus each day), that the vast majority of Coronavirus cases are spreading at home, among families living together in those homes. Not just in NYC (Brooklyn, Queens), but overseas, in densely populated ares of Spain, France, Italy and China, where strict social distancing orders went in place in the last 1-3 months. These NYC doctors working at the big hospitals are seeing large amounts of sick patients each day, and are coming to their own conclusions on what the trends are, and how the virus is spread.

What we’re hearing now, is transmission of Coronavirus is more likely to happen when a person touches or is in sustained contact (15 to 30 minutes) with an infected person who has symptoms (fever, aches), or that infected person is 1-2 days away from getting sick.

Nothing new here, but the quickest way to get infected (if you’ve been in contact with an infected person is to touch your face (eyes, nose, mouth). So washing hands, and using hand sanitizer are highly recommended, and there is sound wisdom there.

Also, becoming clearer for some, that if you are sick, NYC doctors appear to prefer folks go to the hospital for evaluation if you have shortness of breath. Having a fever, and aches can be symptoms of COVID-19, but most people are not going to get sick from COVID, and more likely will have the cold or flu. Shortness of breath is when things are considered to be problematic. Also, for the statistically tiny % of the population that gets really sick from COVID-19, you really don’t want to be on a ventilator.

Rare for me to make such a statement, but if someone is that sick, options could be tough. Some may well consider taking something like Hydroxycloroquine that has some side effects, vs. going on a ventilator, and being heavily sedated for 7-10 days in a near coma. If a really sick person goes on a ventilator, and they are lucky, maybe they’ll come out of the experience not the same, but still alive.

Which brings me to the COVID-19 models, which are only as good as the best data, and the data has been lousy. In January, when ‘the experts’ thought COVID-19 was 3.8 RO, they were also saying 65 million people would die (globally). I documented this on Jan 25, and referenced that statistic for this post. Then last month, the experts said 1-2 million people could die, and showed those models to states and cities who hysterically shut down their economies, and now we’re near shut down as a nation. The Global death toll today is 82,191.

The most cited model now (IHME) projects (In USA, not globally) near 82,000 will die by August 4. Now everyone is dramatically scaling back their projections on death toll, hospitalizations, # of needed ventilators, to # of infected. Why? As I pointed out in my Detroit post on March 30, not every city is as densely populated as New York City. And, for a big region to see a spike in cases, need a lot of people infected in one densely populated area. That’s not happening everywhere.

I’m arguing, in a major city like New York City, after 1-2 months of mass transit closeness (subway, cab, uber, rail, etc), where people traveled together for sustained periods of time and got infected, once the state social distancing orders went into effect, masses of people were forced to stay at home in densely populated residential neighborhoods, with lots of families living together, and then things got really bad, really quick. Notice how NYC and Italy soon exploded in cases and death tolls when the lockdowns began?

Even as models are now scaling back the apocalyptic projections, the IHME model (subject to change based on new data) is saying this for peak dates, and death toll projections:

New York (Peaks tomorrow): Near 16,000 deaths by Aug 4.
New Jersey: (Peaks on April 11): Near 5300 deaths by Aug 4
Michigan (Peaks tomorrow): Near 2300 deaths by Aug 4
Louisiana (Peaked April 4): Near 850 deaths by Aug 4
Colorado (Peaked April 4) Near 300 deaths by Aug 4
California: (Peaks on April 13): Near 1600 deaths by Aug 4
Washington: (Peaked on April 2): Near 700 deaths by Aug 4

Model Link: https://covid19.healthdata.org/united-states-of-america

We’re still in a national emergency, and will be for awhile, but trends, data and reality are going to become clearer and clearer in coming weeks, and millions of people are going to be asking tough questions about why this happened, and I’m arguing a day of reckoning for the experts could be coming.

So here we are now. Many businesses have shut down, 10 million (minimum) Americans are out of work, we’re likely into a severe recession (or worse), and many businesses (and retailers) have invested and implemented social distancing guidelines, and overhauled their operations for public safety, and that’s the way it needs to be for now.

But I’m arguing, by simple observation, that as the experts who predicted mass death are now scaling back their projections, and have to save face by saying social distancing is working (and it does to a point), on simple observation, forced social distancing IS also the spark that makes the pandemic explode in big, densely populated cities.

COVID-19 is a contagious disease. There are no easy answers.

There are probably going to be several more smaller COVID-19 peaks through 2021. And we need to reopen our economy, and be smarter about trends, why some big cities see explosions in cases and death tolls (and most don’t), transmission realities, and how to do social distancing reasonably, so we don’t have a multi-year year severe recession, or economic depression.

Gif: All in the Family Opening/Theme (Top)
Photo: All in the Family House, near 50 years later (Photo Credit: Me)
All in the family