Let’s survive the coronavirus pandemic

Many people are making this mistake about the pandemic

I just saw the following comment on Steve Sailer’s blog. The comment is wrong. It contains a logical mistake. This mistake is very common. Many people think the same way as the guy who wrote the comment. I want to explain their mistake and help you understand why their conclusion is false.

If you want a good laugh, drive by any local hospital. They’re dead. I just drove by several (on the edge of a big city). Ghost towns. I saw one lonely guy standing at the entrance to an ER with his gear on to sanitize newcomers I guess. Please go visit them. They’re so lonely.

(I don’t live in NYC which supposedly has 50 million corpses stacked up)

From the guy’s sarcasm and the fact that he thinks his observations are funny, it’s clear that his point is that covid-19 isn’t really a problem.

This guy is reasoning as follows:

1. Hospitals are empty.

2. Therefore there’s no serious epidemic.

This guy is making several mistakes. The one I want to talk about has to do with exponential growth. Covid-19 is spreading exponentially but this guy doesn’t understand that idea.

When something increases exponentially, the amount can increase from tiny to overwhelming in a short time. This is what happened with the number of covid-19 patients in Wuhan, Iran, and Italy. It’s happening now in New York City and will soon occur in some other parts of the United States.

Exponential growth is a mathematical idea, and most people shy away from mathematical ideas. But it’s not hard to understand. You don’t need to learn any math. All you need to do is think about the following riddle.

I read this riddle in a book when I was a child 60 years ago. I don’t know who thought it up.

Somebody plants a water lily in a pond. Every day it doubles in size. The first day it has one leaf. The next day two leaves. The day after that, four leaves. And so on.

On the 30th day, the lily becomes so big that it covers the pond.

Question: on which day was the pond half covered?

Answer: the 29th day.

If that question was too easy, here’s a slightly harder one:

Question: on which day was the pond one-eighth covered?

Answer: the 27th day.

The leaves are covid-19 patients and the pond is your local ICU, the one you’ll have to rely on if you have a heart attack.

On Monday the ICU is seven-eighths empty.

On Thursday the ICU is full;

On Friday there are so many patients that only half of them fit into the ICU and the rest are sent away to die without treatment.

I’m exaggerating the rate of increase because the number of covid-19 patients isn’t doubling every day. It’s doubling “only” every three, four, or five days. But the idea is the same: the number of cases increases from unnoticeable to overwhelming in a short period of time. That has already happened in several places, it’s happening now in New York City, and it will soon happen in some other parts of the United States.

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