COVID-19: The Cost of Indulgence

You’re one of the best at social distancing. You always have your mask at the ready — and you wear it even in the drive-through at McDonald’s. You only visit face-to-face with your nuclear family. You work from home via internet. You’ve sacficied your hobbies (no more basketball games or knitting groups). You long to see your friends, your nieces and nephews, but you make the sacrifice and do without. You’ve even stopped going to church.

Thank you.

But there’s that one time. You needed to see someone. You tried to take precautions, but you know this wasn’t essential, and it ended up being face-to-face. No masks. A lot closer than six feet.

Of course the odds are way in your favor (now, at least). It’s low-risk. Very. But this time you rolled snake-eyes. You crapped out. Because you had it, and you didn’t know it. Asymptomatic. One of your friends got it. From you. Now there’s one more case. He’s asymptomatic too.

Congratulations! You have now lost control, because what happens next is out of your hands. When you had it was your chance to contain it. When you give it away, it’s in the hands of society at large.

Maybe you think you’re lucky because you live in Ohio. The state has done pretty well containing the spread; by mid-April the daily new caseload stopped increasing, it even declined. Things were well on their way to wiping out the disease. It’s a long, slow, painful process — but Ohio was on the way.

But you’re not quite current on your numbers. They started rising in June, now increasing at a rate of about 6% per day. Ohio’s level is already up to around 70 cases/day/million population, up from only 35 or so mere weeks ago.

If things keep going at the same rate, that means that on average for the state of Ohio, the one new case you gave away today leads to 6 new cases after one month. In two months, 36 new cases. In three months, up to 220.

But it won’t keep going at the same rate. The caseload will explode. The hospitals will run out of space. The governor will pay attention. The death toll will take off. The morgues will run out of space. Then the state might do somethng about it. If you’re lucky, your one give-away will only reach 30 or 40 other people. Congratulations.

When you indulge yourself in something small, something seemingly so safe and innocent, no matter how careful you are you increase the risk of spreading the disease. You’re not just risking yourself, and not just those you indulge in visiting. You are risking dozens, perhaps hundreds, yes perhaps even thousands who will ultimately trace their disease back to you. You probably won’t end up paying the cost; they will.

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4 responses to “COVID-19: The Cost of Indulgence

  1. Good article. And that is when someone is otherwise careful. There is a world of people who are not careful at all. We’ve been lucky, in NZ, but I’ve heard plenty of “youngsters” who think they’re immune or won’t be too badly affected but just don’t think about how they can spread it to others who may be more vulnerable.

    I see this will be an overwhelmingly record day for cases in the US, on a day that Pence claimed that a lot of progress has been made. However, deaths are definitely below what I might have expected though the recent surge in cases won’t show up in deaths for maybe another week or two.

  2. Face masks are not perfect. Social distancing is not perfect. You can do everything right and still roll snake-eyes. It’s a matter of statistics, if most people take precautions most of the time you get R down below 1, and that’s what you need. Being slighly careless in a single meeting with one other person won’t change the odds significantly, even if you should try to avoid it. Joining a crowd with dozens of other unprotected people, that’s when the odds start to shift.