Coronavirus: The true purpose of mass isolation
Scientists had been concerned for a month with a fundamental coronavirus issue.
They knew that China had managed to somehow control infections, in particular the city of Wuhan, with 11 million inhabitants, because of the decision to isolate the whole city from the rest of the country.
But would such measures be possible in Western democracies? The answer is yes, but all other nations failed to do it. What European nations did, for example, was based on the Chinese experience, but they did it too late. Isolation and quarantines in Italy and Spain were adopted too only after the virus had spread to many places.
Such measures did not prevent contagion from spreading widely, for thousands to get infected and many of those to die, -although proportionally speaking the number of victims was very low.
The coronavirus does not look like it is at risk of extinction, but now that countries have sort of understood the risks, health systems are at least able to momentarily deflect, and manage its effects. This is the key to understanding the health crisis.
The coronavirus, a product of SARS-CoV-2, which causes Covid-19 spreads better than its predecessor SARS, and even better than the flu, that until now was the true nightmare of epidemiologists.
Few scientists hope to eliminate it soon. It is likely that the coronavirus will sooner rather than later infect the majority of the European population, and surely the world population, given the lack of preparedness in all countries.
The consequences of the arrival of Covid-19 to all countries will depend a lot on conditions such as temperature, hygiene measures adopted by people and travel restrictions, to cite a few factors.
When trying to measure the impact of coronavirus, a good rule of thumb that epidemiologists have learned in this crisis is the 80/15/5 rule. Those are percentages, and that is why they add up to 100.
Eighty percent of people will become infected without noticing it. For them, the disease will be so mild that they won’t even pay attention to it beyond an occasional acetaminophen.
About 15% can suffer pneumonia and will need treatment, and the other 5% will have to get into an intensive care unit (ICU). The 80/15/5 is the key to understanding the measures that government must take.
Those measurements are correct, but it is not always easy for the population to understand it. There is a kind of math applied to pandemics and the coronavirus is not the exception.
So, if the virus is going to end up infecting almost all of us, why try to stop its spread?
The objective of the States in declaring alerts or states of emergency is not to protect you as an individual, but rather the health system as a whole so that when those that are in the 5% group need care, they will be able to receive it.
The 5% figure out of 100 people infected represent five patients in the ICU. Five percent of a million represent a total of 50,000 patients in the ICU. No health system can bear that and measures are necessary to smooth the contagion curve.
The final number of those infected may be the same, but their arrival at hospitals will be staggered enough to allow care for the most serious cases to be available. Your isolation is not for you, but for others.