How Long Will This Mandatory Quarantine Last?
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If You Think It’s Just an Unplanned Two-Week Vacation, Guess Again.
COVID19 first appeared in Wuhan, China in December of 2019. As of March 25, 2020, there are 428,405 confirmed cases of COVID19 reported globally and 19,120 deaths worldwide.
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The COVID19 dashboard at Johns Hopkins University Medical School actively tracks the progress of the disease by country and region. It has shown a decline or decrease in some areas of the world, but most areas continue to show increases, including the United States.
There are also many unknown factors, particularly in the U.S. where testing has just now started in earnest due to continued delay in the development of test kits.
Steps Taken to Manage and Mitigate COVID19
Various countries have taken steps from advisory to draconian to contain the spread of COVID19. All of the steps have been an effort to diminish person to person contact to prevent the spread of the disease. It’s come to be known as “social distancing.”
What’s Behind Social Distancing
A common term that has been used with regards to the spread of COVID19 is “flattening the curve.” This is a statistical demonstration on a graph that shows how the number of people who interact frequently fuel the spread of the disease.
The fear is that the number of cases will exceed the capacity of hospitals to treat severe cases, especially when ventilators are needed to keep a patient alive. In order to flatten the curve and reduce the spread of the disease, steps have been taken to various degrees—from a simple request for social distancing to mandated lockdowns and quarantines. The big question is: Will it work?
According to Professor Tony Travers of the London School of Economics,
“There is no modern parallel to a whole city or town being put into lockdown. People react well to short-term dislocation, but I don’t see how you could shut down a city for a long time.”
Yet China Did It
In late January of 2020, much of China was in lockdown. People were told to stay in their homes. Schools closed. Stores closed. Everyone stayed inside through the month of February.
In early March, after two months of aggressive containment measures, things in China started to change. Cases began decreasing and life is slowly starting to return to normal. People are seeing deliveries to their neighborhoods that had previously ceased, there are rumors that schools may reopen by the end of April, but fears persist that the virus will start up again once the restrictions are lifted.
The Cycle of the Spanish Flu of 1918
COVID19 has been compared to the Spanish Flu of 1918. It was the most devastating pandemic to strike the modern world resulting in an estimated 50 million deaths after infecting 500 million people worldwide.
What’s chilling is that the Spanish Flu came in three waves, which you can see in the chart below.
It started in the winter, tapered off in the summer and returned with a vengeance in the Fall only to come with a third wave in the Spring. The fear is that COVID19 could repeat that cycle, causing a series of quarantines and lockdowns each time the cases spike and the virus threatens to spread again.
And Then There’s Italy
Italy is second only to China in the number of reported cases and deaths from COVID19. They too have instituted varying degrees of social distancing, quarantines, and lockdowns with mixed results. An announced quarantine of the Lombardy region where the virus first appeared resulted in many people fleeing the region and consequently spreading the disease across the country.
As a result, a lockdown closing schools and many stores while confining people to their homes has been instituted. For how long has not been determined.
After a Lockdown
While life appears to be returning to normal in China and Hong Kong, there is a factor that is potentially inevitable with any disease: its resurgence once quarantines, lockdowns, or even social distancing have been lifted.
Here’s a hypothetical graph put together from a report by the Imperial College in the UK. It demonstrates how the disease can return once measures like social distancing are lifted.
According to the report,
“The major challenge of suppression is that this type of intensive intervention package, or something equivalently effective at reducing transmission, will need to be maintained until a vaccine becomes available (potentially 18 months or more) given we predict that transmission will quickly rebound if interventions are relaxed.”
You hear little about an 18-month time frame on the news or from the U.S. Government, although the President at one point did say the outbreak could last through August. It’s hard to know if that will be the case. According to Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s health emergencies program,
“There is no scientist nor sage on the planet that will tell you when the peak of this epidemic will occur. The peak will occur when the peak occurs.”
Or Less Than a Year?
According to Dr. Richard Leman, a public health physician and Chief Medical Officer for Health, Security, Preparedness and Response for the state of Oregon,
“We need to be prepared to do this for months. And we sometimes will see a second wave of illness, and we need to be prepared for that. We’ll be watching for that. So, we are in this for months. I don’t know that we’re talking a full year. I can’t promise you that it won’t be — depending on whether we see a second resurgence. But I think we need to be prepared to do that.”
The original two-week time frame for social distancing that started about a week or two ago is a thing of the past. On March 18, 2020, the President announced that a federal government plan to combat the coronavirus warned policymakers that a pandemic “will last 18 months or longer” and could include “multiple waves,” resulting in widespread shortages that would strain consumers and the nation’s health care system.
In addition, numerous schools and businesses have been closed across the country and more and more people are being allowed to work from home if their job function allows it. And that gets to the big question of shortages.
Preparing for Shortages Over the Long Term
As alarming as empty store shelves have been in the past few weeks, they may continue to be bare in the weeks and months ahead. Many people will reduce their usual trips to a grocery store and when they do shop, they will no doubt stock up and most likely purchase more than usual.
Many food processors have already announced that they will focus their production on mainline products rather than offering peripheral choices like reduced-sodium or other small product changes that cause increased time for production runs and manufacturing.
Here are few other things to consider, and the list is by no means exhaustive:
- Sales may be few and far between. It’s not price gouging, but it’s the fundamental law of supply and demand. When the demand is great, expect standard retail pricing to apply. When everybody wants it, you don’t have to discount it.
- Remember to shop for staples. Here again, there’s no guarantee they’ll be on the shelf, but a 5-pound bag of flour and 6 packets of yeast can easily make 6 to 12 loaves of bread.
- Be ready for limits on everything. If the toilet paper panic has taught us anything it’s that some people will buy everything on the shelf in a panic. Limits will become standard and software will be adjusted at checkouts to alert a clerk when a limit has been exceeded with a single order.
- Expect interruptions in Internet and smartphone service. As more and more people work online and schools try to take learning to the virtual classroom, the bandwidth of the Internet will be severely tested. Another trend is the increased use of the Internet as people isolated at home reach out for news, information, and social contact through the Internet. The amount of time people use their smartphones will also increase as remote loved ones check on each frequently or use their smartphones to cruise the Internet.
- Expect delays in shipments from Internet retailers. FedEx, UPS, Amazon, and the USPS can only handle so much in terms of packages and shipping. Next day shipping costs will probably spike, and delivery times will no longer be guaranteed.
- Ask your doctor for a 90-day prescription refill. Many prescriptions can be filled for 90 days rather than the usual 30. Also, consider going to pharmacies that have drive-thru windows for drop-offs and pick-ups of prescriptions. Be prepared to wait.
- All Drive-thru operations will be overwhelmed. If you’re in a hurry and think a drive-thru is going to save you time -those days are over. At least until this passes.
What’s Coming is Unprecedented
There is little from history that can project or predict what lies ahead in the coming months and years. The only past precedent is the Spanish Flu of 1918, and given the statistics and impact of the Spanish Flu pandemic, we can only hope it’s not the model that emerges for COVID19.
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