I’m not a medical doctor or an infectious disease expert, but I’ve been looking at the data of this virus for a while and the math of it has me really concerned. I don’t want to add to anyone’s stress, but this is really serious.
Exponential growth is hard to fathom – but the gist of it is that numbers grow faster (a lot faster!) as they get bigger. For this virus, the doubling time seems to be about 6 days. That means that every 6 days you will have twice as many people infected (until enough people are infected that it slows down on its own or until we change our behavior enough to slow it down).
- It takes 6 days to add 1 person when you double from 1 to 2
- It also takes 6 days to add 1000 people when you double from 1000 to 2000
- It will also take only 6 days to add 1,000,000 people when you double from 1,000,000 to 2,000,000
Another way to describe it is that it will takes 60 days to reach the first 1000 cases, but then only 6 days for the next 1000 cases.
Based on information that we have, 15% of people that get this virus require general hospitalization and 5% require ICU care. If 1000 people are sick, 50 of them will need ICU care. A lot of hospitals can’t handle 50 ICU patients in 6 days – especially if they are still treating some of the 50 from the previous 60 days.
The hospital nearest to me has 12 ICU beds. Once we have our first ICU patient (if we don’t already), we can expect the ICU beds at our hospital to fill in 3 weeks – and that is only if every single bed is open today.
Here is a way to check how long it will take at your hospital.
- Look up the number of ICU beds at your hospital. I’ve found this easily on the website of several hospitals. (That is 12 for me.)
- Subtract the ICU beds that are already filled with any patient. This is harder to find, so skip this to get your best case scenario. (I couldn’t find this, so skipped it.)
- Divide the number of ICU beds (or open beds if you could find that) by 2 until you reach the number of current ICU coronavirus patients at your hospital or 1 if there aren’t any yet. Keep track of how many times you divide by 2. (There are no confirmed cases at our hospital, so I went to 1. It took 3 times: 12/2=6 then 6/2=3 then 3/2= 1.5)
- Multiply the number of times you divided by 6 for the number of days to double cases. (That was 3*6 = 18 days)
This is how many days before coronavirus patients fill your ICU beds once you have your first ICU patient.
After this, the level of care available for any patient will be impacted – and that’s for any ICU patient. This can be a new coronavirus patient or someone that has a heart attack or a car accident or anything. The health care system will be stretched very thin. And, more patients will keep coming – 6 days later they will have twice as many patients as beds.
This is very unsettling. The thing that gives us a chance to shift this math is social distancing. A lot of people are still going to get sick, but we can reduce the burden on our hospitals if we can extend the doubling time to more than 6 days. This is the “flattening the curve” that everyone is talking about. You need to cancel your plans and stay home as much as you possibly can. This will slow the spread.
If we get through this and it seems like an overreaction (which seems less likely every day), that’s because it worked.
Stay safe out there and stay home if you can! ❤