Summary

  1. While COVID is not Ebola, it’s definitely not the flu. It can be deadly to those with existing conditions, and the elderly. Some healthy people who survive it suffer terrible consequences. Everyone should avoid it.
  2. An important difference between COVID and other viruses, is how contageous it is. If its spread is not slowed, infections grow exponentially.
  3. When cases grow exponentially, hospital capacity is quickly exhausted. When that happens, people who would have lived end up dying, simply because they can't get medical treatment. This is the main situation every country and locality is trying to avoid, and the only way to do this is to slow the spread. It's all about slowing the spread.
  4. One way to slow the spread is to prevent humans from coming in contact with each other. This is the purpose of lockdowns. Lockdowns come with tremendous economic costs, and are therefore a last resort.
  5. Another way to slow the spread is when a considerable percentage of the population is vaccinated, and therefore can’t participate in the spread. It’s anticipated that a vaccine is at least a year off, and the immunity period is unkown.
  6. Until there’s a vaccine, the best way to slow the spread is wearing a mask. The latest science shows that a cloth mask reduces infection risk by ~65%, while a N95 reduces it by ~85%. When a large percentage of the population wears a mask, the pandemic can be largely controlled, while allowing relatively normal life—see, Hong Kong. Wearing a mask is as much about slowing the spread and saving the lives of others, as it is about protecting oneself.

It’s about you. But it’s also about us.

  1. Individuals — There’s the risk that COVID presents to each of us as individuals. For the young and healty, the risk is of death is low. It’s high for those with comorbitides, which may or may not be of their own cause, and the elderly. That said, a number of healthy people who survive, experience worrying consequences, such as permanent loss of lung capacity, brain damage, etc. At the time of this writing, this aspect of COVID is still largely misunderstood. Healthy people should also avoid COVID.
  2. Society — Each human is a participant in the process of the spread of the virus. If you are infected, and don’t have a bad experience with COVID, you can still infect others, participating in the propagation of the pandemic. Your behavior may ultimately kill someone, and that’s why its our duty to consider the well-being of the broader society. It's everyone's responsibilty to contribute to slowing the spread.

At the societal level, the very best tactic we have to slow the spread while living a relatively normal life is wearing a mask. It doesn't have to be an expensive N95/FFP2 mask. A simple and comfortable surgical mask, if worn by the majority of a population, is sufficient.

Just today, it was reported here in Spain, that the two owner/operators of a hairdresser establishment were positive for COVID. Of the 190 customers that were subsequently traced and tested, not a single one was positive for COVID. Both of the two hairdressers, and all of the customers, were wearing masks during their interactions.

Debunking

Following is a running list of common arguments from people I run across on the social networks.

  1. The COVID death numbers are inflated! — To claims that COVID deaths are inflated, due to mislabeling of death or financial incentives, you just have to look at the total deaths by all causes. When total deaths fluctuate by 1% to 5% per year, and then skyrocket to 350% during the COVID pandemic, the source of the excess deaths is obvious. This is so pronounced that it's estimated that COVID deaths may be up to 60% under-reported!
  2. Vaccines are bad! — Deaths from infectious diseases have dropped 95% since 1920, largely due to vaccines. There is a spectrum of risk vs benefit across all vaccines. Some are certainly debatable. But others far less so, like poleo. Each vaccine has to be assessed in its own context. It's simply foolish to hold a blanket position against all vaccines.
  3. It’s all been planned! — I've actually read some who believe that COVID appearing during a US election year is a coindence so great it can only be explained by a conspiracy to remove Donald Trump. There's probably 50 ways to debunk that; the easiest being to simply note that every event that happens on planet earth has a 25% chance of happening in an election year. Remember that the world has endured over 250 natural pandemics. This is just the next one.

Above all, never forget Occam's Razor — The simplest explanation is the most likely!

A note about hospital saturation

For those who develop life-threatening COVID-19 complications, hospitalization, and in particular, access to an Intensive Care Unit (ICU), can be their only hope of survival.

As it happens, there aren’t many ICU units in the world. As a consequence, a relatively small outbreak can immediately overwhelm the local hospital system. If on average there’s one ICU per 10,000 people, and a COVID-19 outbreak quickly results in 1% requiring an ICU, that’s one ICU available for every 1,000 who need one.

And when that happens, the consequences can be terrible, as we saw in Italy and Spain, where at one point, people over the age of 65 arriving to hospitals were simply sent home to die, as there was nowhere to treat them. Under such circumstances, the natural mortality rate of COVID-19, which appears to be roughly 1%, can increase to 10% and more, because so many die due to lack of hospital access.

And that brings us to possibly the most misunderstood aspect of this crisis:

The main problem with COVID-19 is not the individual risk of death. Rather, it's that the virus's contagiousness leads to outbreaks that immediately overwhelm local hospital systems, and that, in turn, results in a spike in deaths.