Mathsplaining Coronavirus: And Why You Should Stay Home

by | Mar 15, 2020 | Just Living, STEM | 0 comments

We are currently in the most challenging and uncertain time around the globe because of a virus called coronavirus, aka SARS-CoV-2 which leads to the disease COVID-19. Yes, there are a lot of sciencey terms being thrown around, and there is a lot of bad information being tossed around including those who think:

  • This is not a big deal
  • This will pass soon
  • H1N1 was worse why overreact
  • And the crowd favorite… why should I stay home

So I decided to get into mathsplaining mode to help some people understand why we are being told to stay home and why we should take this a bit more seriously. If you feel the need to challenge anything I say, I have references below and no, I am not a doctor, a virologist, a biologist or a public health figure. I am just someone who has been around a lot of scientists and realized they do a poor job of explaining things for the rest of us in the back of the room.

Just consider me a nerd interpreter who excels in tossing around math to help you understand why you need to stay home and not travel for a little while.

Also, this is changing on a daily basis, so my numbers only reflect those as of today.

So here we go….

COVID-19 has a death rate of 3.4%

The death rate, or mortality rate, of COVID-19 is currently 3.4% of the people who have contracted this disease. The reported spread, or infection rate, is currently 1:2.1 which means for every 1 person infected, they will give it to 2.1 persons even when they are asymptomatic. Just to keep up, asymptomatic means producing or showing no symptoms.

Let’s put these numbers to work in a real population center such as my hometown of Birmingham, AL. Birmingham has a population around 210,000 people. If half, 105,000, contracted the disease, then over 3,570 (105,000 x 3.4%) people will die.

Now back to the most recent analysis coming out of South Korea who have tested 248,000 people. They are showing that those between ages 20-29 are the largest asymptomatic carrier group of coronavirus. While the largest death group are over the age of 60.

**By no means am I saying that people in their 20’s won’t get sick. France is reporting over half of their ICU patients are under the age of 60.**

But… only 12,000 people died from H1N1 and no one overreacted then

Okay, so you may be on team “no one freaked out during swine flu.” I totally get it, because the media has been comparing lemons to limes and we all know that they are kind of the same, but a lemon can ruin a great margarita.

H1N1 had a death rate of 0.02% with a spread rate of 1:1.3, meaning for every 1 infected person, they infected 1.3 people.

Back to the Birmingham, AL example… if half of the population is infected, 105,000, that means 21 people died.

The other thing to remember about H1N1 is that the most affected, were those under the age of 60. Largely children, teens and those in their early 20's. So in comparison, COVID-19 is more dangerous to older people with estimated death rates in the following age ranges (the numbers are out of China):

  • 3.5% – Ages 60-69
  • 8.0% – Ages 70-79
  • 14.8% – Ages 80 and over

To sum this up, H1N1 did a lot of damage to a lot of people but especially kids and young people.

COVID-19 is being carried in large amounts by young asymptomatic people but is doing a lot of damage to older people. As more people get tested, the overall average death rate may go down, we don’t know yet because those in lower death rate groups may skew the numbers, but it will absolutely still stay the same for those ages 60 and over.

**AGAIN. By no means am I saying that people in their 20’s, 30's, 40's or 50's won’t get sick. They are!**

Still wondering why they are telling us to stay home and chill out?

COVID-19 is not hitting everyone the same, meaning it discriminates against the old and the weak the most.

Even though COVID-19 is spreading like the flu, the flu it is not. It is its own virus the same as SARS and Ebola are their own viruses respectively. We were able to react faster to H1N1 because it came from something we knew where as we are kind of clueless on COVID-19.

And sure you might be saying that coronavirus is not new and you may still think it is the flu. When it comes to virus families, the influenza virus family is different than the coronavirus family. While the coronavirus family, SARS-CoV, first made an appearance in 2003, today, it’s little cousin, SARS-CoV-2 came for a visit and no one knows how to handle them.

What about other global diseases like SARS and Ebola

Okay, remember when I said that SARS and Ebola and Influenza are different? Well they are!

SARS and Ebola are nasty and aggressive diseases. SARS had a death rate of 15% but had a very low transmission rate because it could not live outside of the body very long and it did not travel well. Basically, when you came in contact with it, it was immediate. The same with Ebola, with a death rate of 40%. People die so quickly because of immediate transmission and being more transmittable at the end of someone’s life. Again it did not travel very well because of not living outside of the body very long.

H1N1 lives much longer. It has an average incubation time of 2 days… up to 7 days for some and can live on surfaces for up to 48 hours. Incubation means from the time you contract to the time you show symptoms.

COVID-19 lives much, much longer. The numbers are still fluid but it is estimated that the incubation period is up to 11 days and can live on surfaces for 72 hours.

The overreaction methods to contain SARS and Ebola were successful because it was easier to separate the sick from the non-sick. Symptoms appeared quickly with those viruses where as COVID-19 people can walk around for days and not know they are sick. You know how you magically get colds but you only went to the post office? This is being around people who may not show signs and touching surfaces that people claim to clean.

This is why they are telling you to wash your hands. This is why they are telling you to stay home. This is why they are closing businesses.

  • High carrier group of people with no visible symptoms
  • High death rate of people who get it
  • High spread rate that can get out of control
  • And no cure, no vaccine, no treatment and no medicine

The real reason you should overreact and stay home

We are fighting a disease we know very little about. It is spreading fast and attacking even faster. I understand that some of us will never think this is a big deal and this is a gross overreaction because we did not do this during H1N1 or SARs or Ebola. We are comparing the beginning of one virus, COVID-19, to the end of another, H1N1. This pretty much means, they are incomparable. By doing our part, we can help those who are putting themselves at risk to help the greater good of us all. I know we don’t want to be told what to do but maybe this one time, it’s okay to follow the crowd and act responsible in keeping everyone else safe.


References for your enjoyment:

Here's How COVID-19 Compares to Past Outbreaks
COVID-19: How does coronavirus compare to other outbreaks?
David Sinclair, PhD AO
Coronavirus death rates in South Korea reinforce a frightening pattern of how the disease affects older people
300 People with Coronavirus Are in Intensive Care in France. Most of Them Are Under 60.
CDC – Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

About Me

Phylecia Jones

Hi! I am a traveler, happy hour lover, #STEM advocate, and former US Navy computer scientist that stumbled upon building a career as an international keynote speaker, two-time TEDx speaker, national television money nerd and Founder of iFind You Close, finding speaking gigs across the globe.



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