So I was talking this week with my parents, who remember the polio epidemics of the 40s and 50s. Each summer the virus would flare up in different cities and regions. When there were outbreaks in a particular locality, movie theaters and bowling alleys would shut down, and swimming pools and beaches would be closed. It seems to me the present situation is not unlike a polio outbreak where the air is a swimming pool, the entire country is a movie theater.
Sure, the survival rate for COVID-19 is something like 98%, depending on where you are when you contract it or, more accurately, where you are when you require hospitalization for it. But that’s the survival rate. It says nothing about the virus’s ability to send staggering numbers of patients to the emergency room and ICU all at once, potentially overwhelming the system. Maybe some people think they’re not likely to contract it. Maybe that’s even true. But maybe we should think of COVID-19 as the Hans Gruber of viruses.
This has been said in many other places, but I’m going to say it here again: All the other emergencies don’t stop while COVID-19 is going around. There are still accidents. There are still heart attacks. There are still bacterial infections. And, to bring up something I know more about than I want to, there are still ruptured cerebral aneurysms and subarachnoid hemorrhages. What sort of triage decisions would have to be made in an overwhelmed hospital system, where the ICU is full of COVID-19 patients on ventilators, where the emergency department is full of people who can’t breath, where patients are being housed in hallways, when somebody shows up with a roughly 50/50 chance of survival? 50% is a lot lower than 98%. You run the odds and place your bet on how resources might be allocated in that scenario and see what you get.
And so, on to the public service announcement:
And while you’re at it, put on a mask.