Politics meets religion meets mathematics. The political talk is that churches should open on Easter Sunday, April 12, and go back to “life as usual.” But the hard math says, “Please, do not do this!”
One common talking point compares Coronavirus deaths in the U.S. so far (900+) to auto accident deaths (about 37,000 annually) and mocks the “big deal” that medical professionals and scientists are making over this health scare. But these are not similar numbers. Currently, about 100 people die every day in automobile accidents, on average. But that rate has not changed in several years.
With the Coronavirus, on the other hand, we passed 100 deaths per day in the U.S. on Sunday, March 22. By Tuesday that had risen to 154 deaths within 24 hours, and then a one-day toll of 259 on Wednesday. Daily deaths are growing at an average per-day rate of over 30%, which means that deaths are on track to more than double every three days. Unless that trend changes, expert projections are fearing up to 100,000 deaths nationwide by Easter Sunday.
We are sadly enured to a constant death toll on our highways, but I suspect this kind of growth rate in auto deaths would make us change our driving ways pretty quickly. The Coronavirus deaths perfectly demonstrate the exponential growth of this lethal virus, which is Nature’s most common way of growing.
Below is the current growth curve of U.S. Coronavirus deaths, with the characteristic exponential “bend.” The blue line is the current death count. The gray line is the death trend over the last ten days, which overlays an almost identical trend for all of March, the orange line. Total reported cases in the U.S. show a similar exponential growth, but at an even faster growth rate, and with now over 64,000 cases reported. That gray line needs to bend to the right to demonstrate any progress. It isn’t.
There can be as much as a 10 to 14-day lag between when Coronavirus cases are reported and when its subjects have either seen their symptoms abate, or they have gotten worse and died. Just eight days ago, only 6000 cases had been reported, one-tenth of the current count. So, the actual death rate is still unknown and possibly higher than the 1% figure often quoted. And especially since widespread testing has not nearly reached the levels promised, we are on track to see as many as ten million cases by Easter Sunday unless something changes.
I suspect a lot of people saw that blue fatality line in its early days and thought it looked pretty flat. However, if you zoom into those early days, this same bending curve was already taking shape, and by the first of March we had seen that Chinese and Italian deaths were growing at this fast exponential rate (and actually, some in government knew well before).
Will this trend change by Easter? China and South Korea have both taken their virus growth rates down dramatically, but China enforced much more aggressive social isolation than we are accomplishing. South Korea had its first reported cases the same day that we did, but they had massive testing up within a couple of weeks. Thus, they have been able to track “hot spots” and isolate thousands of infected, non-symptomatic carriers to halt the spread. Testing in the U.S. remains very difficult to obtain. The promised “drive-thrus” in Walmart parking lots have not yet appeared in any numbers. There are still usually several days of delays before results are available, and we have absolutely no clue as who the asymptomatic carriers are (except for some professional athletes and Senators).
What about rural communities? Are they safer? Almost every small town has a nursing home like the one in Washington State which has been linked to 35 deaths and dozens more infections of patients, family and staff. Rural communities may have more time to prepare for this infection, but they will not escape it, and large gatherings will certainly expedite the spread of the virus. Rural hospitals have been getting rid of beds for admitted patients for several years, regularly shipping people to big-city hospitals instead. By Easter many of these hospitals will likely “have no room at the inn” and no place to send the overflow.
I could be gracious and attribute these calls to open the churches on Easter Sunday to mathematical illiteracy. Or be cynical and call it political pandering to naive communities of faith. Either is pretty scary. I could be wrong here, but I will bet on the math and, to paraphrase Joshua, “as for me and my house” we will not be in church on Easter Sunday.
Stay safe. And as the Gospel says, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures of toilet paper…for where your Charmin is, there will your heart be also.” Or something like that.