Coronavirus is Here

Even in the best case scenarios, things are going to get a lot worse from here before they get better.

Please, please, please, do not rely on me here to tell you what is going on or what to do. Even more than that, please, please, please, do not take this as saying that you shouldn’t do a lot more than the things I’m saying here.

This is me doing what various stupid reasons prevented me from doing earlier, deciding that saying something is a lot better than saying nothing, and hoping it will do some good.

This is not a model of what is happening, or an attempt to justify what you should do, because attempting to do that would cause me to continue to say nothing, and that seems worse.

If you already are taking the situation seriously and making serious preparations, this probably won’t tell you anything new. I am totally fine with that.

This is me seeing something and saying something.

If you need some sort of permission to yourself to acknowledge that this is happening, and that you need to take action now to prepare, this is one more instance of that. You have it.

It will be important that you retain the ability, when things get bad, to keep your head on straight. Prepare now, including mentally, as best you can, for people you know and care about getting sick and dying, because this might well happen to you regardless of what actions everyone involved takes.

Here is an article describing the symptoms, if you are not yet familiar with that. It’s primarily dry cough and pneumonia.

From the statistics I have seen, with super wide error bars, overall risk of death if you do get infected could be up to about 2%. But that is only an average. It varies wildly based on age and prior health, and presumably access to health care. I’ve also seen reasonable claims that initial degree of exposure matters here.

Risk of death chart by age:

Age Death Rate
80+ years old    14.8%
70-79 years old 8.0%
60-69 years old 3.6%
50-59 years old 1.3%
40-49 years old 0.4%
30-39 years old 0.2%
20-29 years old 0.2%
10-19 years old 0.2%
0-9 years old no fatalities

Co-morbidity is very high for conditions such as heart attacks, cancer and diabetes. If you are elderly and/or have conditions such as cancer, a prior heart attack or diabetes, you are at much greater risk, and should take all precautions more aggressively.

If you have not yet prepared for quarantine in place for at least several weeks, and ideally longer than that, you need to do at least that much now. Get a three month supply of any medications you need. Make sure you are stocked with the necessary food and water, soap and toilet paper and so on. Here is a quick LessWrong post on quarantine preperations.

Decide now what would make you impose this quarantine on yourself rather than waiting for an authority figure to do it for you, and what would cause you to impose other lesser restrictions. Decide what would cause you to stop going to restaurants, stop going to work, stop going outside for any non-emergency reason, and so on.

Figure out what news sources, including people who you trust, you are going to be willing to trust for information going forward.

If you are not prepared, including mentally, for approximately everyone around you to freak the hell out about this in various ways, you need to do that now.

If you have any plans to fly or attend conferences or sporting events or other major gatherings of people, at least beyond the next few days, cancel them. Period. Where and when you draw the line is up to you, but draw a line and adjust it quickly as news comes in.

If you can do your job from home rather than a crowded office, do your job from home. If you have to commute, don’t do it on crowded subways or buses.

Do not shake hands or otherwise make other unnecessary physical contact with anyone.

If you are not yet doing your best to get good hand washing practices or avoid touching your face and other similar basic hygienic actions to avoid infection, get on that. Here is a post on how to properly wash your hands.

Remember that the virus can survive on surfaces for days, that it takes people several days of incubation to show symptoms, and that it takes two weeks to play itself out.

If there are people you care about who don’t know that this is happening or aren’t taking it seriously, fix that.

Here is a practical advice post that seems good that has detail. Biggest impact actions from its perspective are avoiding people in general, avoiding people who seem potentially sick in particular (at least 2 meters away at all times), frequent proper hand washing and keeping a reasonable stock of supplies.

Here is the LessWrong advice thread where people offer advice and justifications for potentially ‘weird looking’ actions. One piece of advice is to stock electrolyte drinks in case someone is unable to eat due to illness. They recommend copper tape be placed on commonly touched surfaces and the backs of phones, you can buy some here. Also they endorse a pulse oximeter. One interesting suggestion is Vitamin D supplements since you might be unable to go outside.

Here is a basic ‘the CDC expects this is happen’ thing from a few days ago in case anyone needs to share something that basic with someone, otherwise ignore.

If you live in a major city, and leaving that city is practical, it is at least reasonable to do so, especially if you are at greater risk.

Do not take this as anything like a complete list of things to do or consider doing. Seriously consider doing more things to prepare, and avoiding more things more aggressively, based on what you believe to be helpful.

Again, DON’T PANIC. Let’s all stay safe as best we can.


This entry was posted in Coronavirus, Good Advice. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Coronavirus is Here

  1. Pingback: Coronavirus is Here | The Rationalist Conspiracy

  2. Ivo says:

    > Remember that the virus can survive on surfaces for days

    This is unnecessarily alarmist. It’s strictly true, *but* viruses usually lose their ability to infect after at most 24 hours. (

    Re: vitamin D supplements: everyone should already be taking those all the time. Non-negligible chance of benefit, negligible chance of downsides, cheap. h/t gwern

  3. GPoaS says:

    Last week Friday, the WHO released a report from their on-the-ground team that they sent to Wuhan, China. There’s no point in summarizing the report, as it would read basically the same as this blog post, but I think that it is important for people to read the primary source. If for no other reason than that if they do that, they can’t dismiss anything someone else (like you) says as either being alarmist or complacent.

    Report here:

    Click to access who-china-joint-mission-on-covid-19-final-report.pdf

    Another thing worth underscoring, which you mention but I will mention harder:

    > From the statistics I have seen, with super wide error bars, overall risk of death if you do get infected could be up to about 2%. But that is only an average. It varies wildly based on age and prior health, and _**presumably access to health care**_.

    According to the WHO report, the mortality rates in Wuhan have been almost double the average, while the mortality rates outside of Wuhan have been almost half of the average. I think that some of this variance (especially the low numbers outside Wuhan) reflect fog-of-war type factors in part. But overall, the difference is in access to healthcare. The outbreak in Wuhan rapidly swamped their healthcare system, and as a result the fatality rate was doubled. From the WHO report above, approximately one in every five infected people will need some level of medical care, anything from supplemental O2 for pneumonia all the way up to life support systems. The 2% fatality rate _assumes they get that treatment_. I am not a medical professional, so I don’t know what percentage of those nonfatal-but-severe cases die without proper treatment. But I am assuming the worst.

    Important takeaways I’m trying to highlight:
    * The fatality rate will increase substantially without access to healthcare
    * Assume that access to healthcare will be extremely limited, as hospitals get overwhelmed with too many sick
    * Also assume that access to healthcare _for unrelated reasons_ will be threatened or disrupted. On the worst-case end, because they are too busy with COVID patients to deal with you, and on the best-case end, because you don’t want to risk hospital-acquired infection

  4. Pingback: On R0 | Don't Worry About the Vase

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