Liberty Vittert: Social distancing for coronavirus will save lives – look at these numbers

As I hunker down for the long haul at home with my Newfoundland dog Henry, I can’t help but feel real frustration and, fine, outright anger, at the many individuals who are choosing to ignore the social distancing advisories.

Images from Clearwater Beach, Fla., Monday show thousands of people frolicking in the sun, oblivious to the clear and present danger affecting all Americans right now.

Believe me, I get it – whether it is a long-planned family vacation or a day “working from home” that you would rather spend at the beach – I really do understand. However, by choosing to ignore the social distancing advice, people are putting not only their own health at risk but the health and lives of thousands of other Americans.

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Let’s look at the numbers to understand how a trip to the beach could be a real danger.

The scariest part of coronavirus is how fast it spreads to other people. This rate is affected by a multitude of factors but the most important ones are incubation period and contact rate. Coronavirus can have an incubation period of up to 14 days, meaning that you can have it and spread it to others while having no idea that you have it. That makes the “I feel fine, why can’t I go out?” argument null and void.

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The other issue is the contact rate. Coronavirus is very contagious. The more people you come into contact with, the more you potentially infect, which then means those people infect even more people. This is what we call an “exponential growth rate.”

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Let’s use a totally different example to understand what “exponential growth rate” means. If I ask, “Would you rather I give you $1 million today or one cent today and then double it every day for 30 days (i.e. on day one I give you 1 cent, on the second day, 2 cents, on the third day, 4 cents, etc.)?” Which do you choose?

If you chose the second option, you’re in luck. By day 30 I would have paid you over $5 million.

That is the power of exponential growth and while it works out pretty well for you if it’s putting money in your pocket, it turns out really, really badly for our country when it is people getting coronavirus.

How can social distancing help bring that number on day 30 down?

If we socially distance and slow the spread of the virus, it means that we will have enough hospital beds, ventilators and medical staff to fight this pandemic.  

Let’s go back to our money example. If instead of doubling the amount of money each day for 30 days, I only pay you for 27, then the total amount of money you will have made is only about $670,000 by the end.

Just three little days dramatically decreased the amount of money you received by about 86 percent. Social distancing works similarly with the coronavirus.

If limiting contact with other people can even slightly reduce the rate of spread (even by just a couple of days), there can be an enormous impact on how many people have coronavirus at the end of 30 days.

Does social distancing stop everyone from eventually getting it? Not exactly, but it does do two things.

First, it lets people get it, recover from it, and build up an immunity so that they won’t infect others.

Second, it prevents our healthcare system from ending up like Italy’s – completely overrun and in desperate straits.

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If we socially distance and slow the spread of the virus, it means that we will have enough hospital beds, ventilators and medical staff to fight this pandemic.

As Americans, we have the strength and resilience to suffer together for a greater cause. As patriots, it is our duty to do whatever we can to protect each other and, in this case, the best way to do that is to stay away from each other.

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