Sunday, March 1, 2020

Here's how to deal with the coronavirus pandemic: Stay calm and take commonsense precautions.

By Timothy Gamble

(This article also appears on

3-1-2020 - If you're wondering what you need to do about the Covid 19 pandemic, its actually quite simple: Stay calm and take commonsense precautions.

Covid 19 has certainly become a true pandemic, regardless of when WHO gets around to labelling it as such. It is currently in 67 countries, many of which are now experiencing sustained local transmission. At least 3,000 people have died (and likely many more since China is known to be severely under-reporting their numbers). 

But there is good news. First, as diseases go, Covid 19 is not particularly deadly. It is less deadly than SARS, MERS, or even the Flu. Yes, Covid 19 can kill, especially the elderly and those with already weakened immune systems, but the vast majority of healthy adults who do get Covid 19 will live.  

Second, most people won't get Covid 19. Think of it this way: In China, the epicenter of the outbreak, there are 80,000 official cases, but we know China is lying about their numbers. Most epidemiologists believe the real number is between 4X and 10X the official Chinese numbers. Even in the worst-case scenario, there are only about 800,000 actual cases. This sounds like a lot until you realize China's population is slightly over 1.4 billion. So, less than 1% of the population is infected. In the US, between 5% and 20% of the population get the flu each year, depending on the severity of the flu season. So, even if the US has a major sustained outbreak of Covid 19, you are still more likely to get the flu than Covid 19. There is no need to panic.

But no one likes to get sick, so there is need for a certain amount of concern. But what should we be concerned about? Three things:
  • Physical health (we don't want to get sick)
  • Physical safety (we don't want to go shopping when people are starting to panic)
  • Economic concerns (supply chain problems, shortages, market downturns)
Physical Health - There is no need to fear the virus itself. It is not particularly deadly. For the vast majority of otherwise healthy adults, you are under no more of a threat from Covid 19 than the flu. Simply take the normal commonsense precautions as you would for the flu:
  • Wash your hands often, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid contact with those who are sick. Avoid crowds.
  • Regularly clean and disinfect all surfaces. 
  • If you are sick, avoid contact with others.
  • Stay home when sick and for two days after symptoms stop.
  • Do not prepare food for others if you are sick, or may be sick.
Physical Safety - You don't want to go shopping for food and other supplies if shortages occur and people start to panic. There have already been food runs in Germany, Italy, and Spain.Videos from Europe are circulating that look like Black Friday videos here in the United States, with customers rushing store doors and fighting over the last canned ham on the shelf. You need to have at least three weeks of food and other basic necessities at home so you don't have to go out into the crazy crowds that might be panicking at some point. 

Economic Concerns - If you are an investor, don't panic over the recent market drops. This is an event driven drop, not one based on bad market fundamentals. Event driven drops tend to have V-shaped recoveries - a sharp drop followed by a sharp rise. Even with the sharp market drop last week, it would not be surprising for the markets to end 2020 higher. This is not 2008. Don't panic.

Also, event driven drops typically do not erode jobs. The stock market drop of last week, and probably this coming week, will not lead to massive lay-offs. Again, this is not 2008. Stay calm.

What is likely to happen will be some shortages caused by problems in the supply-chain with China's production largely shut down, combined with panic-induced buying as people start stocking up over coronavirus fears. In the coming weeks it will become increasingly difficult for stores (including Amazon) to keep the shelves fully stocked. We are already seeing some shortages in facemasks and other basic medical supplies, some auto parts, and even some canned goods on Amazon. This is why people should have at least three weeks of food and other basic necessities at home.
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