The COVID-19 trend line nobody is talking about

Flatten the curve!

That is the message that we have been bombarded with ad nauseam, reminding us why are should stay at home to stop the spreading of the virus.

The rationale is rather simple. There is only so much capacity of our healthcare system to cope with COVID-19 cases, which require substantially more medical attention that the Influenza virus (also known as the flu). Without this care, the fatality rate would skyrocket.

Unfortunately, we have a pretty good idea of how this scenario would play out. You have to look no further than to the current situation of Italy to see what an overwhelmed healthcare system, where resources are scarce and rationed and where life and death decisions are routinely made to decide on who gets that ventilator and who won’t.

So we are pretty much all sold on the idea that the quarantine, which should make it that new cases come up at a low enough rate that the healthcare system can cope is, generally, a good idea. I have even argued in the past that it is just good economics (see “Should we let the COVID-19 spread in the name of the Economy” at https://link.medium.com/Dy0VXujhc5, although admittedly the analysis could be improved with an age-distribution adjustment and some other variables).

The thing is, nobody seems to be discussing how and when this quarantine would end.

Given that, with current measures in place, we are barely being able to contain the sustained growth of contagion, it seems obvious that if we were to stop the quarantine the numbers would again skyrocket.

That is, after all, why we don’t interrupt the quarantine right now!

But I believe that it is also clear for the World that quarantine measures cannot be kept indefinitely, as not only the Economy but probably most of society as we know it would slowly crumble away. And, given that at the current rate, we would reach herd immunity only in a good fraction of a decade, it is just not viable.

So what is our way out of it?

Well, currently there are only three reasonable avenues out of this situation:

  1. We invent a “cure”, in the form of a very effective vaccine. Unfortunately, this possibility is probably still too far away in the future. All the “promising vaccines” out there still have to undergo extensive testing before they are deemed safe enough that they don’t cause more damage than the COVID-19 itself. We are looking at maybe the first-half of 2021;

So the first one is out for the foreseeable future and the last two can be combined in one concept: increase in healthcare capacity.

And that is the line, the healthcare capacity that, for some reason, it is always kept flat in most depictions and shouldn’t, because it is our way of the current mess.

Healthcare capacity needs to increase to set the bar high enough that even with countries functioning at reasonable levels, contagion is still well within what our healthcare system can cope with.

Governments need to use the reams of information we already have to estimate what that contagion rate would be, what resources would be necessary to deal with that and how far are we along the way to achieve that resource level.

Perhaps even more importantly, current and target capacities should be clearly communicated to the public, so we can understand how well we are doing and why we are having this quarantine in the first place!

Only then a balance could be struck, one that will be easiest to achieve the higher the healthcare capacity bar is!

This will not be easy as, given the incubation period of the virus and the geometric progression the contagion exhibits, it will be easy to overshoot the capacity bar, so we need to be somewhat conservative in the way we manage this.

But, at the moment, it is our only way out.

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David Carvalhão

Serial entrepreneur and doer of exotic things. Follow me for articles on investment and happiness. And other random stuff too.