You’ve heard, no doubt, about the Butterfly Effect: A butterfly flapping its wings in Beijing causes a hurricane in Florida. Well, please bear with me. There is one theory that the coronavirus, aka COVID 19, first entered the human world when someone bought some wild meat (perhaps from a strange creature called a pangolin) in a market in the area of Wuhan, China, didn’t cook it thoroughly enough, and ate it, thereby becoming infected.
Not quite as pretty as a butterfly, but, hey, it does capture the metaphor: A tiny--a personal--action having global consequences. As I write this, the university where I work started spring break a week early. When spring break is done, we will be starting classes back using methods of instruction that do not require bringing large masses of students into the same room with each other. This is how it will be for the rest of the semester.
Here is the math of it. Suppose that, in the general population, only 5 percent have the disease. That means a given individual has a 95 percent chance of being infected. If you bring 20 of these into the same room, however, there is only a 35 percent chance that no one is infected, i.e. a 65 percent chance that someone is. You have just exposed the whole room. They go to classes of 20 other uninfected students, and it spreads like fire.
This isn’t a zombie apocalypse. A zombie apocalypse wouldn’t really spread because you can tell what a zombie looks like. If you are zombie, you know it because you’re gnawing on someone’s skull.
In terms of contagion, this is much more subtle. Most people won’t know they have it; they might not know they are sick. I’ve read the symptoms and for the most part it looks more like being in your fifties than anything else, but there is a nontrivial part of the population that is more susceptible.
For those with the co-morbidity conditions, it is much more serious. One table I looked at, for those over 80 there is about a 15 percent chance of dying once you get it. On one hand, that is an 85 percent chance that you won’t die; that’s good. On the other hand, I wouldn’t get on a bus that advertised that I only had 15 percent chance of dying once I got on. And if you know 5 such people, there is a better than 50 percent chance that at least one of them will die.
Okay, then, how do you not get on the bus?
Here we look to simple, common sense things: Wash your hands and stay in. Yes, you love your children and grandchildren. You want them to know that. Well, they do. They might feel sad if they don’t get a hug now, but how sad will they be knowing that they killed Mimaw or Pawpaw? Don’t you want for them to be around you a few years longer so they know you better? You’ve still got some things to teach them.
Okay, young people, you very likely won’t feel sick at all if you’ve gotten this. I know you think you have to go to the beach or wherever to do what you young people like to do. I was young once and I can almost remember how it feels, so if you can’t keep yourself home, do you think you can limit your talks with Mimaw and Pawpaw to telephone conversations until you can get tested. Surely there will be some tests sometime.
I’ve seen estimates that eventually 70 percent of the population is going to get this. That is statistics. We can try to manipulate this in various ways. We can slow it down through old-fashioned, God-fearing cleanliness; that will keep our medical infrastructure from being overloaded if it works. We can protect those who are vulnerable by being careful.
Until this passes over, wash your hands, keep your distance, and eat your pangolin well-done.
— Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. He invites you to “like” the National Association of Lawn Mowers on Facebook.