I have hesitated to write about the coronavirus because I am so relatively ignorant on the subject in terms of all that there is to know. That said, compared to the average person, I believe my current perspective on the matter is relatively well developed. That is why I have decided to share it today.
My goal in this instance is not to make specific predictions, but rather, to share my best guess expectations based on the aggregate of the information I have read, and in the end, to suggest simple actions we all can take to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.
The three variables that I believe are most important to forecast are the number of people who will be infected by the coronavirus and the percentages of those people who will (a.) develop severe cases of it, and (b.) die as a result of it.
My understanding is that the traditional flu typically infects about 10% of the population with a death rate of 0.1% among those infected. Therefore, 0.01% of the total population are expected to die from the flu each year. This is still a lot but we usually take basic precautions to prevent ourselves from spreading it if we have it (not going to work, taking tamiflu, washing hands) or from getting it if we don’t (getting flu shots, washing hands). Healthcare systems do their best to treat those with more severe cases who need to be treated, and generally they have the resources to do so, here in America at least.
Compared with the traditional flu, many of the people who seem to me to be well informed on the novel and still very difficult to predict coronavirus believe that it will infect between 25-75% of the population, with a death rate between 1-2%. The size of these ranges as much as anything else should serve to show how unpredictable this whole situation remains at this stage. The third number is not as important with the traditional flu but matters in this instance because of the potentially 7x greater number of people who could be infected with the coronavirus versus the flu (up to 75% vs. ~10%). That number is the percentage of people who will develop severe cases. This number I have seen projected at around 10x the death rate, so between 10-20%. It matters because if this number holds at a scale that ends up being on the higher end of the projected infected rate then the death rate could theoretically increase as a percentage of the severe case rate due to healthcare systems not having the resources (human and otherwise) to even attempt to treat, let alone effectively treat, all of the severe case patients in need. Ignoring this issue and taking only into consideration the currently projected infection and death rates that I mentioned earlier in this paragraph, the overall death rate in the population would project to be in a range that is between 25-150x that of the traditional flu at between 0.25% and 1.5% of the population (versus 0.01%). In the worst case based on these assumptions, up to 15% of the population would have severe cases in need of treatment (20% severe of 75% infected). It bears repeating that this is the absolute worst case based on the current wide-range projections that I have seen. Still, by those best guess projections it is a feasible case nonetheless and so without being too much of an alarmist I do believe it is useful to consider for the purpose that I previously stated of preparing for the worst while hoping for the best.
The measures that I have taken thus far have been easy and low effort. Beyond trying to spend a few minutes per day getting informed, I have made an effort to wash my hands more, trade hand shakes and daps for fist pounds (I do this a lot anyway), and from a less important than physical health, financial health perspective, I sold all of my stocks on the market’s open on Monday because I do unfortunately think that the panic if not the reality of the situation will get worse before it gets better. Hopefully I will be wrong, but I would rather be wrong and miss out on whatever market fluctuations may occur between now and when it all blows over than to keep my money in the market for the ride, especially when people have predicted a significant downturn that has yet to come every year for the last few years. This is a good time to mention that I am not a doctor nor a wealth manager, just a person sharing a few precautions that I have taken. As things progress and if cases start to percolate throughout New York City, I might become more inclined for however long the spread persists to spend less time with fewer people and possibly go home to New Jersey (by car, not by NJ Transit through Penn Station). I would also consider stocking up on 2-3 weeks worth of essentials (as I read recommended), being sure to buy things without near-term expiration dates which I would go through eventually anyway, again, just in case of a worst case scenario.
I will close by saying that I do not believe in the utility of a state of panic at either the individual or collective level. I do not intend with my writing today to cause anyone to enter such a state. My only intention is to share what I have come to believe based on what I have read to date from sources most of which I had never heard of prior to this outbreak but which I have chosen to give varying amounts of trust based on their large followings, titles of authority, and as important as either of those things, the soundness of their logic and reasoning from my perspective. I of course hope that the coronavirus does not become the potential pandemic that a lot of people are predicting it will be. Best case scenario, a lot of people spend a lot of time and energy preparing for something that will not be nearly as bad as many expect it to be. Even then, our over-preparation might be useful in helping to make it an even smaller situation than it otherwise might have been. More than anything, I recommend spending a few minutes a day or even only every few days reading one or two updates on the coronavirus to gain a little bit better of an understanding of what is going on.