The Calculus of a Virus

You can’t read the news without bumping into Covid-19 and the hysteria generating headlines.  I have been shocked at the level of fear that is developing around this.  At the office two folks decided to work from home because they’re afraid. The rest of the staff is waiting for management to send us home for two weeks.

I should mention that I work for a high tech company and my team is all software engineers.  It’s a bunch of really smart people.  There’s one math PHD and lots of Master degrees walking around the lunch room.

Normally the banter around the virtual water cooler (in our case the company IM channel know as “random”) is about the company stock price and who is the latest person to buy a Tesla. This last week the random talk has been mostly about the virus.

I did try to get them to talk about why the stock price was down, but was told, “virus fears” with no further conversation.  Strangely, they also started this weird, “where to buy toilet paper” thread – including pictures of empty Costco shelves.  I get that people feel the need to stock up on supplies in case we get quarantined, but exactly how much TP do you need to have on hand for two to three weeks?  Perhaps they’re confusing this with the zombie apocalypse.

The speculation on how much TP was needed and when it might be needed somehow turned our software engineers and mathematicians into epidemiological experts. There were discussions of the relevant equations, virus vectors, prevention methods, and lots of complex equations soon found their way to various IM channels.

One person went as far as calling (actual phone call) Costco to get numbers on TP sales.  Sadly, all they got was, “We sold out in 30 minutes after opening and expect more tomorrow.”

The studies by our team of “experts” suggests that my county will have 200 confirmed cases by tomorrow morning and as many as 4 people dead.  People are losing their minds over these numbers.  I don’t want to minimize impact of the virus, but dial it back folks and wash your hands.  There’s a difference between real risk, fear, and outright panic.

Personally I blame the fear on two factors and both are writers.  I’m a writer so you get to blame me.

One source of cultural fear of a viral pandemic comes from post-apocalyptic fiction.  Books like, Earth Abides, The City Not Long After, Maze Runner, and movies like Outbreak and 12 Monkeys.  And, well, every zombie movie and TV show ever made.  All of these show the horrible after effects of a viral pandemic.

The other source is our news media.  Driven by profit, news outlets like Fox, CNN, The New York Times and so many others have the need to get eyes on their websites, buy their papers and generally consume their content. 

The headline, “Covid-19 is a New Virus, Wash Your Hands” gets you two readers, while the headline, “We’re all Going to Die a Horrible Death” gets enough eyes on the website so the editors can buy a new yacht.

Two points – never believe media hype.  And post-apocalyptic fiction is, well, fiction.  Viruses don’t behave like that and so far I’ve not heard of a single Covid zombie reported.  Well, maybe I’m not reading the right websites.

Still it is scary. It’s possible that a lot of people will get sick, many will be inconvenienced, and yes some will die.  It’s the risk we take walking around the planet. Over time viruses tend to mutate to less aggressive forms.  Remember you’re basic biology, a virus needs living cells to reproduce.  A virus that kills its host is an unsuccessful virus. It will take time, but a vaccine will be available.

If we take reasonable precautions (go wash your hands), and only buy the TP we need for a month, 99.9% of us will be here next year to complain about the collapse of our stock portfolios and what the heck to do with all that TP.

About Andrew Reynolds

Born in California Did the school thing studying electronics, computers, release engineering and literary criticism. I worked in the high tech world doing software release engineering and am now retired. Then I got prostate cancer. Now I am a blogger and work in my wood shop doing scroll saw work and marquetry.
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43 Responses to The Calculus of a Virus

  1. Shonnie says:

    This COVID-19 pandemic is definitely unfortunate. People are struggling financially and emotionally. People are definitely panicking, and our overall livelihood is being affected. I myself am a bible reader. The bible foretold thousands of years ago that situations like this will occur. So I’m not surprised that it’s happening. I do have faith that Jehovah God will make things better for humankind in the near future. Until then, let’s us continue to do what we can do. Stay home if circumstances allow, wash you hands and wear a mask if you choose to. And try to eat as healthy as possible by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. And drink plenty of water. Everyone stay safe and healthy out there!❤️

    Luke 21:11-There will be great earthquakes, and in one place after another food shortages and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and from heaven great signs.

    Psalms 37:11-But the meek will possess the earth, And they will find exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.


  2. floridaborne says:

    I am in agreement with you. How many people die from the flu each year? How many get the flu? Do we see any statistics on that unless we dig for them?

    Everything on this planet can kill us, and Cars, Heart Attacks and Cancer do it better than anything else. The difference is that the media doesn’t say, “500 more people died in car accidents today, everyone stay 50 feet from the next car.”


  3. KP says:

    During the last few months the world is experiencing things that have been heartbreaking. I have gained comfort in the following passage that promises , Isaiah 33:24 “No resident will say I am sick”.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. geoaffleck says:

    Wait till the markets get hold of this info and digest it!!

    China, a population of 1.5 billion, at the epicenter of this virus outbreak, sometimes announcing 3, 4, 5 K new cases a day – now has only 5,300 active cases left and fewer new ones every day.

    Most have recovered! This is huge. Absolutely huge.

    I predict a 15% jump in the Dow as soon as this info is realized. Forget bonds – buy stock in anything!!! – except toilet paper.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. G. J. Jolly says:

    Thanks for the laugh, Andrew. I needed that.
    I don’t understand this frenzy with the toilet paper. The virus isn’t a digestive one, it’s a respiratory one. It isn’t going to hit the back side. It’s going to hit the lungs.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. inese says:

    I hope you won’t be affected, Andrew. The reason we work from homes is not our fear. We just don’t want to repeat the mistakes that led to the tragedy in Italy. We don’t want the infection to spread like a wildfire. We want it to spread ( because it WILL spread anyway) in a manner that our ill-equipped hospitals are capable to handle. I am one of the vulnerable, but I still want to live a little longer. I stay home and wish the majority would do that for another month to make a dent in the pandemic. I am an adult, and I think it is the time to make responsible, sober, adult decisions.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Everyone needs to take reasonable precautions. My office has asked most people to mostly work from home. They’ve given those of us in the high risk groups paid leave if they can’t work from home. All reasonable, sensible precautions.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m completely confused by the toilet paper hoarding. WHY?!? Beam me up, Scotty, there’s no intelligent life down here.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Christi says:

    As you know, I work in a convent and most of these nuns are in their 70s, 80s and 90s, some with underlying health conditions. And yet this evening we had a pizza party for local youth and the Sisters had a great time. Until the virus hits the community, they don’t want to isolate themselves. Of course, they’ve lived their whole life that way – focused outward.
    I think that’s what bothers me the most with people hoarding TP, hand sanitizer, etc. It’s thumbing your nose at your neighbors and community.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I was wondering about your nuns and thought this might be the kind of thing they’d do. I did check, the average American uses 100 TP rolls a year, buy more than that at one time makes you a greedy hoarder …

      Liked by 1 person

  9. George says:

    This is like chum in the water for the news media. They have always perpetuated fear to the general public and this is no different. You’re right, we should all take precautions as it will get worse before it gets better but panic is not the way to address this. It will pass in time.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Margy says:

    I hope more bloggers write posts like yours – calm and informed. I did, and will keep it updated as more info arrives.
    My Canadian Province, Alberta, has posted great triage advice: “If you have COVID-19 symptoms and have travelled outside Canada or were exposed to someone who has COVID-19, stay home and call Health Link 811 for instructions. Do not go to a health care facility without consulting Health Link first.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Stay informed. My county just banned large gatherings of 1,000 people or more and has starting testing locally. The next few weeks are going to be weird, but we’ll get through.


  11. Lakshmi Bhat says:

    It is scary and we have to take precautions but life goes on and we have to lead our lives. Why live in fear?

    Liked by 1 person

  12. As I watched the stock market plummet this morning–because of oil, not Covid–Varney and Company (Fox News) called themselves the ‘calm corner’, trying to settle fears with facts. It seems akin to screaming in a hurricane.

    This too will pass, don’t you think?

    Liked by 1 person

  13. lorieb says:

    Parts of Canada are in the grip of fear too. Drives me crazy how media ALWAYS blow things way out of proportion, like you say fear and shock sells. Scary how (supposedly) smart people can be so controlled by fear mongering.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s amazing how easily so allow themselves to be controlled and stop using the brains they have.

      Liked by 1 person

      • lorieb says:

        and the masks! How do they not know wearing a mask does not protect yourself? All they are doing is creating a shortage for those (the contagious people) that really need them! Infuriating, but don’t get me going lol

        Liked by 1 person

        • I didn’t write about that, but it’s another point of this thing I don’t get. The docs, emergency officials and so many others have pointed this out. It’s also a thing I don’t get – as part of my normally emergency home supplies is a small supply of masks (enough for a couple of weeks) so if I really needed a mask – I’d already have some. People think!

          Liked by 1 person

        • lorieb says:

          fear overcomes common sense unfortunately

          Liked by 1 person

  14. Ron Lewandowski says:

    One of your best…
    Got to go wash my hands before I wipe the funny tears😂


    Liked by 1 person

  15. floridaborne says:

    There’s a pandemic scare every year. More people die from the flu each year. There’s something about this one, though, that seems to be eerie. A little over 100 years ago, in 1918, my grandmother passed away from the Swine Flu (Spanish Flu). It wasn’t too bad the first year it came around, but by the 2nd year, it was a pandemic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s true, we have the annual scare. If you look at death rates for different things, more people from cancer, car crashes, etc than this virus. People need to get a little objectivity going.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. jfwknifton says:

    Here in Merrie England, we have been told to keep two yards away from people and to wash our hands every hour or so. Wash your hands for long enough to sing “Happy Birthday” or some other 20-30 second song. I have opted for “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Once I caught a fish alive”. Keep your potentially germ carrying fingers away from your eyes. The virus lives on flat, shiny surfaces so keep them clean with disinfectant spray if possible
    A mask will help you not to cough on other people or to breathe in the germ, and wearing glasses will stop you ingesting it through the eyes, a very common source of contamination. Viruses hate sunlight and dry heat so open the curtains on a sunny day. Fresh air is good too. So is working at home if possible. This helps avoid a situation where the entire nation is ill in bed for a week, the economy collapses and there is nobody to drive delivery vans to restock shops.
    We have been told that the categories most at risk are older people and those with blood pressure problems, asthma and other respiratory problems and heart problems. I would be very surprised if all of the people who have caught it were over 80 and at death’s door anyway, so it is worth taking this disease seriously.
    Stay healthy!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. cindy knoke says:

    I don’t get the toilet paper hoarding either.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. dfolstad58 says:

    I agree with you the hysteria is overblown. However it seems much worse when you see videos of cities with no traffic etc.
    A certain portion of population is more vulnerable but mostly the quarantine is preventing further outbreaks.

    A reliable vaccine I expect by summer from China

    Liked by 1 person

  19. retrodee says:

    Exactly! The media has this blown way out of proportion and the bottom line is always money.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Relax... says:

    Ahmen. The U.S. death-reporting leaves out the handy facts that most were elderly people in nursing homes or folks whose health was already seriously compromised. (These are the very folks who die from the flu, year after year, vaccined or not.) There’s also too few too-small reports about how the Covid-19 virus is basically not hitting young kids hard, if at all. (Thankfully!) Last but not least, I’m having trouble being reassured by the mega-purchase of testing kits. It’s a virus — the tests for it aren’t going to do anything for its sufferers. Maybe stocking up on tp is the only way folks can feel some measure of being proactive, I don’t know, but it’s time to turn off and/or x out of the news for a while!

    Liked by 2 people

  21. pommepal says:

    Just back from Sydney. 2 airports,2planes and travelling on packed 5pm commuter public transport. Not a mask in sight. People still hugging and shaking hands. Panic? What panic, as you say all media hype. But for some unfathomable reason every shopping trolley had 2-3 loo rolls, the quota now allowed….

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s some concern here in California. Lots of people staying away from public events and plenty of panic buying. I will admit to buy a couple of extra cans of chicken noodle soup yesterday.

      Liked by 1 person

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