Could you be a superspreader of Covid-19? Chances are good you will not know. Many spreaders are asymptomatic. But more and more research demonstrates a minority of those afflicted – 10-20% of the total – infect 80% of total cases. The result is a low kappa – the degree of “skew” in the epidemic’s data.
Why Is That Important?
Because it gives you a better way to control the epidemic, save lives, and the economy.
SARS, cousin to Sars Cov 2 which causes our present epidemic, had a kappa about .16. In one infamous case in Hong Kong, one individual infected over 330 others in Amoy Gardens, a housing block. It was effectively quarantined.
SARS died out.
Chances are with the disease in nearly 200 countries and with millions of known cases, we won’t be so lucky.
But in one of the better mathematical models, the kappa, skewness of covid-10 cases around the world, might be running as low as .1 (https://wellcomeopenresearch.org/articles/5-67. ) This means if you control the point outbreaks of epidemics quickly through tracing and tracking, you can stop regional epidemics before the virus gets into its exponential phase, where it infects and kills many.
Has That Happened In Other Countries?
It appears it has. Vietnam reports 0 official deaths. Sri Lanka reports 9, Taiwan 7. We lose that many Americans in minutes.
Though these countries test at perhaps one-twentieth the US rate, they stopped the epidemic in its tracks. If you find the cases and quarantine fast, you prevent the disease from breaking out.
What Are the Advantages of Effective Trace, Track, and Quarantine?
- You save a lot of lives. In Australia, which has many similarities culturally and economically to the US, the overall death rate is 4 per million versus 330 here. And their numbers are staying down. Regional authorities started working on the virus in January and then got together with national authorities to coordinate the response.
- You help save your economy. With quick tracing and tracking, you don’t need full-blown lockdowns.
- You may help save schools and industries. In the next few months there will be innumerable arguments about who and when should go back to school. When you get a tracing and tracking regime like that of South Korea, Taiwan, or Australia, you get to open up things faster, because you know how and when to surgically shut them down.
- You provide people better peace of mind. Uncertainty does more than help crash economies – it rots the soul. Can I send my kid back to school? Will going back to work help kill me? When people know public health measures are effectively deployed, they feel safer. And public health officials will continue to learn more to achieve better and better results.
What Works That I Can Do?
- Avoid the three Cs – Closed spaces especially with poor ventilation like bathrooms; Crowded places; Close contact, as once naturally occurred during pre-virus conversations. Places that did and continue to warn people about the three Cs, like most of the East Asian nations, have rates of death per million between 0 and 6 per million, compared to 330 in the U.S.
- Use masks, especially when inside, where the three Cs are more prevalent. Masks have lots of problems. But besides being a fashion statement, all the countries that used them regularly did not experience major epidemics; those that adjusted to using them, like Germany, avoided the bigger point outbreaks that occurred in Milan and New York. Given what we know about how the disease spreads by respiratory droplets and aerosols – conversation, coughing, singing, and sneezing – masks make clear physiological sense.
- Cooperation. People feel a lot better when they’re united and working together. Countries that coordinated their Covid-19 response had vastly better health and economic results. Even highly criticized Japan, which decidedly did not shut down its economy, has a death rate of 6 per million.
All this is not easy. South Korea, which underwent a severe point outbreak linked to religious services, just had another smaller one linked to Seoul nightclubs and gay bars. About 200 hundred cases were reported, though many did not leave their real names due to a homophobic culture. A fully open night-time club scene in Seoul has been shelved, and many large, crowded public spots temporarily closed.
But the system proved effective.
The skewness of Covid-19 infections, where a few individuals, many asymptomatic, cause most of the cases, gives you a much better way to surgically control the virus. Coronaviruses usually cause fewer cases throughout the summer months. The U.S. can use that time to recruit the workers and volunteers (which might include you) to locally trace and track; to set up future quarantine spaces so individuals do not infect their family and friends; to educate people about the three Cs of Closed spaces, Crowded places like store entrance doors and elevators, and Close contact; and to give people hope and confidence. Cooperation will help control the virus.
We know what approaches work. Time to use them.