image of respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) virion

Folks. We need to talk about the coronavirus pandemic. And we need to talk now.

(But . . . let’s talk through the Internet or phone—not in person!)

There’s a lot of information out there about the coronavirus. Unfortunately, much of it is confusing, contradictory, and/or out of date before it was even published.

So today I’d like to highlight the #1 most important infographic about the disease, and the #1 most important article about the disease, that I’ve come across thus far. So listen up. Or rather, I mean, get your reading and thinking on . . . all ye readers and thinkers! If you imbibe no other news about the coronavirus, imbibe these two majorly vital tidbits. All right, here we go:

#1 Most Important Infographic About the Coronavirus

coronavirus infographic that shows that without protective measures, the healthcare system will be overloaded

Note: I found this infographic in the New York Times email newsletter on the coronavirus that I recently signed up to receive. (Subscribe to the coronavirus email newsletter here. On this page you can also subscribe to other email newsletters from the New York Times; I love the Evening Briefing. It’s free to subscribe to New York Times email newsletters.) (The email newsletter refers to this Twitter thread that features the same infographic.)

This infographic is so important because it clearly shows that WE MUST SLOW THE SPREAD OF THE CORONAVIRUS, and WE MUST ACT NOW.

According to the experts who created this infographic, the virus’s impact will be in the shape of a bell curve when mathematically mapped. The coronavirus will become more and more of a problem, but then a tipping point will be reached, at which point the virus’s spread will slow.

But here’s the thing: the bell curve can happen quickly or slowly over time. It will happen more quickly if we don’t take protective measures. It will happen more slowly if we do take protective measures.

The quicker scenario is the worse scenario, as the number of simultaneous new cases will exceed the capacity of the healthcare system to cope. In other words, in the quicker scenario, more infected and symptomatic patients will be showing up at hospitals than can be accommodated by the number of available doctors and nurses and beds and medical equipment and other resources.

We don’t want that. More people will be turned away from hospitals, and more people will die. In the slower scenario, the healthcare system will be able to cope with the number of patients showing up at hospitals, because fewer patients will be infected and symptomatic on any particular day or week.

So, what are the protective measures we need to take, to aim for the slower scenario? They are the same ones you’ve already heard:

  • Wash your hands with soap, or use hand sanitizer, after being in a public place or in contact with another person.
  • Stay home, if at all possible. Cancel appointments and events and travel plans. Don’t go out unless you have to. Obviously do this if you’re sick. But even if you’re not sick, you don’t want to get sick yourself. And you also don’t want to become an asymptomatic carrier who makes another person sick.

Please share this infographic with others. Let’s spread the word about stopping the spread of the virus.

#1 Most Important Article About the Coronavirus

The most important article I’ve seen about the pandemic is one published two days ago called Please, Listen to Experts About the Coronavirus. Then Step Up. by Charlie Warzel in the New York Times.

In this article, Warzel first explains that the coronavirus is spreading so quickly that scientists, news reporters, and authority figures can’t keep up. We don’t have all the facts. But we do know one thing: things could get very bad, very quickly. Or, if we “flatten the curve,” i.e., follow the infographic’s flatter blue curve by putting protective measures into effect (see the above infographic), things could get a bit worse, but be not nearly as bad as following the infographic’s higher red curve without the protective measures.

Therefore, Warzel relays this crucial recommendation from numerous infectious disease experts:

“People in the United States and those in places with community spread of the virus need to start putting into effect more extreme measures of social distancing to flatten the curve of the outbreak.”

Warzel then delves into this recommendation more deeply, citing specific experts, such as this one:

“Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, laid out the case for social distancing in American cities. . . . Social distancing means keeping sick people home and out of contact with healthy as well as vulnerable people. It also means that healthy people distance themselves by avoiding crowded or public places, canceling plans and not traveling. It’s intended to slow down the spread of the virus so that it doesn’t overwhelm the health system all at once.

This is the same lesson we learned from viewing the infographic above. But Warzel goes further. He makes an important point that the infographic doesn’t, which he drives home at the end of his article.

Namely, Warzel explains that AUTHORITY FIGURES HAVE NOT DONE ENOUGH TO URGE PEOPLE TO STAY HOME. He writes about his own personal actions in the face of this crisis: he is buying extra food and supplies, without going overboard with prepperism or panic; he is staying abreast of current news developments regarding the disease; he has canceled plans to travel and attend public events; and he has donated to his local food bank. But, as he explains, this is not enough:

“Those steps are effective only when everyone who can participates, too. It’s why authority is so important in a crisis — it helps to influence behavior at scale. . . . The authority void needs to be filled by experts and leaders large and small. If you’re in a position to step up, do it now. By the time action seems obvious, it might be too late to make a difference.”

Big St. Patrick’s Day Plans. You and Me. Lasting the Whole Month. Maybe Longer.

It took me a ridiculously long time (like, several hours) to realize that I, myself, am one of these “experts and leaders large and small” of whom Warzel writes. That is, I’m a small leader: I write a blog that’s read by hundreds of people; I organize and host two Meetup groups, one for readers and one for writers; and I am (well, I hope, anyway!) well respected by my family and friends.

Like Warzel, I have been taking protective measures. I have secured supplies of food and medicine. I have canceled doctor appointments and, where appropriate, requested phone consultations in lieu of going in to a doctor’s office. When I must see a doctor, due to my current health conditions, I have decided to avoid public transportation, my usual mode of getting around. (Alas, I cannot yet drive!)

But just me and Warzel acting isn’t enough. We all need to be doing such things. Because it’s not just about you. You may be thinking, “Oh, I’m not in a risk group; I’ll be fine.” Sure, if that’s the case, you probably will be fine. But every person who goes out in public risks getting the disease and becoming a carrier who infects others, even if you experience no symptoms yourself. So you could cause someone else to be very not fine.

Moreover, none of us is immortal. Maybe your immune system isn’t as prepared for the coronavirus as you think it is. Or maybe you happen to have a completely unrelated heath problem and require emergency care; do you really want hospitals to be overwhelmed with patients, such that they can’t accommodate you or a loved one for what would normally be a routine procedure?

Since many of our society’s authority figures are not stepping up adequately, or not stepping up quickly enough, it seems that peons like me and you must do the work ourselves. I’m canceling my Meetup events for March. I’m canceling events with friends and family. And I’m publishing this blog post.

Stay home, folks, if you can. Cancel your travel plans. Cancel your social events. I realize that many people have jobs or other responsibilities requiring them to go out. So if you must go out, wash or sanitize your hands, like, constantly. And tell everyone you know to do the same: Share this blog post on social media. Call people on the phone and make plans to not hang out anytime soon. Text people GIFs displaying stern warnings, couched in adorable images and animations. Send people persuasively worded emails, peppered with both smiley faces and that scary “The Scream” emoji. Snuggle up with your pet, whispering in the cute ear of that little furball that they will be getting LOTS of extra attention for the next few weeks, the lucky thing! Yeah, you both deserve it. So does society.

So, you and me, baby. This is going to be the best St. Patrick’s Day party ever! It takes place right here, on the Internet, in the comfort of your own home, and it lasts the entire rest of the month, and maybe even longer!

Wear green every day! Or don’t—we won’t be seeing you, anyway—and good luck to ye, matey!!!!

But seriously. What are you doing to take protective measures, and also spread the word about taking protective measures, against the spread of the coronavirus?