Reading news articles and tweets about the coronavirus has consumed an unpleasant percentage of the time in my days lately. If the same has been true for you, you do not have to read this. You have probably come to your own set of conclusions based on a large set of information already. I do not yet have any great advice for people like you and I who have a hard time turning a blind eye to this. In case, however, you have mostly tuned out the news or even if you have not but you have come to trust my perspective and reasoning to some degree, I feel compelled to share a brief update on how I see the state of play today in regards to the coronavirus.
One could justifiably ask why I should feel any right to opine on something that I am not by any means an expert about. I would answer that, first of all, I am not advising the UN here, second of all, you do not have to listen, and third of all, I do not see much negative that could come from what I am about to write. I am simply sharing my writing on something with a group of people who read what I write presumably because they find some value some of the time in some of the things that I write.
So here it goes…
Harvard and Amherst, arguably the top university and liberal arts college in the nation, respectively, have both told their students not to return to campus after Spring Break. They plan to complete their semesters remotely. Others will follow these leaders in the next two weeks.
Google, Twitter, Amazon, Microsoft, and JP Morgan have told their employees (in certain locations at least) to work from home. Others will follow these leaders in the next two weeks.
Events like SXSW and BNP Paribas Open have been cancelled too. Soccer games in Europe have been cancelled or played without crowds. Other events will soon be cancelled in mass. It seems more likely than not that there will be some March Madness games played in empty arenas.
Whether this all proves to be an overreaction, an appropriate one, or too little too late may currently be indeterminable, but the reaction itself now seems more or less inevitable.
Prepare for the reality of this seemingly probable reaction. Even if you do not think it is inevitable, assign a different than 100% probability to it and operate with the probability of that reality in mind.
There is usually little or no penalty for being overly cautious for a relatively short period of time to prevent a potentially long and detrimental set of consequences.
I am concerned at this point that it may become very difficult to prevent widespread panic as the above reactions come to fruition, whether or not the reality of the virus will warrant such a level of panic. One of the ways I can think of to prevent panic at the individual level is with preparation.
In terms of preparation, this week I am going to begin building a 2-3 week supply of nonperishable food that I would eventually eat anyway if it is not needed sooner than later in an Italy-like situation or worse. It is critical to appreciate that the reason I am doing this is not because I necessarily think I will need it. Rather, I am doing this because I acknowledge that there is a small chance that I could need it and I do not see any costs or downsides to doing it other than the acceleration of a few weeks worth of minimal food costs (which most people can afford without trade-offs) and being viewed by others as gullible or straight up stupid to believe all of the “media hype”. If you care much about that, you can just keep it to yourself. If I cared much about that, I would not be writing this.
In terms of avoiding public areas and crowded places, I am using some level of caution about touching subway handles for example, but I am not yet actively avoiding these areas until the number of infected people in New York gets greater. For example, I played basketball in a local school gym yesterday, took the subway there and back, and plan to do the same to go see the Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden tomorrow night. As the virus continues to spread locally, which I assume it will, I plan to monitor it relatively closely and gradually change my approach regardless of government restrictions as the situation changes. This realm of decisions is more difficult to deal with because the cost of isolationism over the extended period of time that the virus is likely to be around can have a relatively large impact on quality of life and could be regrettable if it is all for naught. That is to say, in this case there is a cost and a downside. My thinking at this point is that if I were to get the virus at this relatively early juncture, which has a very low probability of happening from my perspective, I would isolate myself as soon as I felt off in the slightest, and while the overwhelming likelihood would be that I could take care of myself to get back to good health, if I did unfortunately need urgent care at any point, the hospitals are not yet being tested in their capacities and I could be treated without much likelihood of any issues and without taking a hospital bed from an older or less healthy person who could be waiting to get one after me.
Another costless precaution that I am taking is to wash my hands more and try to have more awareness about their cleanliness and about touching my face and biting my nails. The latter I have done for the majority of my life and I am not so foolish as to think that I could break the habit overnight if the time does come that I would be well-advised to. Again, there is no downside here and so doing the smart thing becomes a why not option with minimal effort required. Consequently, if I increase my awareness and stop biting my nails as a result of all of this, that would actually be great.
I may be very wrong about any or all of this, and I may be overly cautious and over-preparing. I certainly hope that is the case and I think that the odds are probably decent that it is because I recognize that I have a bias towards being risk-averse when the worst case scenario is a grave one and the chances of it happening are not worth testing. The thrill of risking life is not alone worth the risk of life to me, and though the reality is that our lives are always at risk, any reward that can be gained by adding to that risk is less frequently worth the deal to me than it is to most.
In conclusion, I would much rather be ready and wrong than unready and right.