SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 Update: March 8th, 2020

Diego Verez kissed his boyfriend, Alex Gil, while holding their
9-month-old Pomeranian, Gio, inside the subway on Wednesday.
(photo by Brittainy Newman of The New York Times)

Well, here’s what that map from the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases dashboard looks like today:

A new case has popped up in Edmonton, Alberta, 1193 kilometers (741 miles) by airplane from where I am in Winnipeg, Manitoba. My brother and his family live just south of Edmonton, and I am extremely worried for their health and safety. I spent Friday and Saturday texting him reams of instructions on what to do, how to prepare, and what to buy. He assured me that he and his family are as prepared as they can be; the whole family was involved in Scouts Canada for many years, so they are better prepared than most.

By this point, everyone I contacted yesterday was already well aware of the danger of a pandemic, thanks to the excellent coverage of the outbreak by the Canadian news media. Even my unflappable, long-suffering best friend (with whom I have a $50 bet that there will be pandemic cases in Winnipeg), was up-to-speed on his hand-washing knowledge! I was suitably impressed.

Overnight, Italy has imposed quarantine on 16 million of its citizens:

Shortly after midnight, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed a decree affecting 16 million people in the country’s prosperous north, including the Lombardy region and at least 14 provinces in neighbouring regions, including the cities of Venice, Modena, Parma, and Rimini. The extraordinary measures will be in place until April 3.

The decree says people should “avoid any movement in and out” of those regions and also any trips within this area, barring journeys “for proven work needs or situations of necessity for health reasons.” Anyone in quarantine because they have coronavirus is forbidden from leaving home.

The decree does not mention the transport of goods in and out of these areas and does not say how the rules will be enforced. The fate of foreign visitors stuck in red zones in northern Italy was not immediately clear.

There was chaos and confusion in the hours before Conte signed the decree, as word leaked to the news media about the planned quarantine. Students at the University of Padua in northern Italy who had been out at bars on a Saturday night saw the rumours on their cellphones and rushed back to their apartments to grab their belongings and head to the train station.

Hundreds of passengers, some wearing face masks and rubber gloves, crammed onto the last local train leaving Padua at 11:30 p.m. Anxious students wrapped scarves around their heads, shared sanitizing gel, and sat on their suitcases in the aisles. No conductor came by to check tickets.

That train was stopped in Rome, and it is not yet clear how the Italian authorities will deal with all the escaping passengers on the train. This is an example of how people can start to act irrationally, and rebel against social distancing and quarantine measures. Other recent examples:

In addition, there have been reports of dozens of cancellations of conferences and events, as well as closures of gathering places:

I’m not going to repeat all the instructions I’ve posted so many times before on this blog. You can find them all here (including this one). If by now you are not convinced that there will be a pandemic that will severely disrupt both your everyday life and society around the world, then nothing I say will convince you until it’s too late. The United States is doing an extraordinarily piss-poor job of risk communication to its citizens, which means many people still don’t fully realize the implications of a pandemic the likes of which we have not seen in over a century.

For example, one person responded after I tweeted that the well-respected, experienced Dr. Richard Hatchett, who is leading U.K. efforts to develop a coronavirus vaccine, is saying that COVID-19 is “the most frightening disease I’ve ever encountered in my career”:

The person who doubted this expert said:

To which I would respond: you might not be worried about how sick you get, but what about the vulnerable people that you might infect? The elderly, and those with underlying health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer, are particularly at risk of a severe, even life-threatening, response to the SARC-CoV-2 virus. Overwhelmed Italian doctors are already telling us that 10% of COVID-19 cases require treatment in the intensive care units of their hospitals. A 15-minute radio interview with the first Florida COVID-19 patient revealed that he was so ill that “Mentally, I begged God to take me home.”

And a public liaison at the Washington state nursing home that has reported numerous deaths said:

“Our experience with this so far has shown that the virus is volatile and unpredictable,” Killian said. “We’ve had patients who, within an hour’s time, show no symptoms to going to acute symptoms and being transferred to the hospital. And we’ve had patients die relatively quickly under those circumstances…We know very little about how fast this may act.”

This is also going to have all kinds of unexpected spin-off effects. For example, I’m quite sure that the coronavirus will complicate Linden Lab’s efforts to find another company to take over the Sansar project, at a time when dozens of tech firms are more focused on managing their responses to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and keeping their employees safe.

Fasten your seatbelts; we’re all in for a bumpy ride.

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