Image courtesy of Very Angry Bird Blog

by Bruce O’Hara

December 2, 2022

Last week, I talked about how Anthony Fauci must have realized by February of 2020 that COVID19 had almost certainly been created in a Chinese lab with American funding support. Though Fauci did his level best to deep-six that story with a preemptive attack in the prestigious British scientific journal The Lancet, he must have known the truth would come out eventually. (Indeed, just today US Senator Rand Paul has declared that Fauci must be held personally responsible for seven million COVID deaths.)

So Fauci knows he’s screwed up big-time; the first precursor to panic.

I would suggest there’s a second condition that can make human beings prone to panic: being blindsided by events.

COVID took off in North America because health authorities in both Canada and the United States were asleep at the switch.

Normally, when a new disease emerges, extreme caution and vigilance is advisable for four reasons:

1) Only limited data will exist on how infectious and/or deadly the new pathogen is.

2) Early on it is impossible to know if the disease has serious long-term after-effects.

3) A new disease is much more prone to new -and perhaps deadly- mutations.

4) Far and away the easiest time to rein in a pandemic is at the very beginning.

This last factor is crucial, as can be understood better with a concrete example.

It takes ten doublings to get from one case to 1,000 cases. (If each doubling takes seven days, it would take ten weeks to go from one case to one thousand cases.)

After six weeks, one case will have grown to 32 cases. If you find 16 of those cases and prevent them from spreading the disease to anyone else, it puts the pandemic on hold for that week. Prevent spread in 24 of those cases and the pandemic is set backwards by a week. With case numbers so small, a lot of resources can go to tracking each and every case.

Consider what happens if, instead of intervening at 6 weeks, we wait till 12 weeks to start heavy duty contact tracing. By week 12, there are now 4,096 cases. We have to find and quarantine 2,048 cases just to slow the spread of the disease by one week – a task that is orders of magnitude more difficult. And the task doubles in size each week thereafter that we wait.

The wonders of exponential mathematics mean that once you reach 1,000 cases, the following ten doublings will cause the pandemic to explode into a million cases over the following ten weeks. That rapid growth will quickly overwhelm contact tracing staff, and hospitals, as we saw.

The outbreak of SARS in 2003 was in many ways a dress rehearsal for COVID19. SARS spread to thousands of people across multiple countries in a matter of weeks.

We were lucky with SARS. SARS had signature symptoms which made it reasonably easy to identify those who had it, and only those with symptoms could spread the disease. But those who studied the SARS pandemic realized that if either of those conditions hadn’t been true, SARS could have quickly exploded out of control, killing millions.

Southeast Asia was ground zero for the SARS pandemic. Seeing how close they had come to a runaway pandemic, the nations of Southeast Asia developed a meta-strategy of Better Safe Than Sorry for responding to future pandemics.

The United States was incredibly lucky during SARS. Not one American was infected with SARS on American soil. The United States had mobilized an army of 800 medical personnel to deal with an outbreak of SARS in the US. Those 800 people sat around for weeks with nothing to do.

As a result of that experience, the US Government developed a very different meta-strategy for dealing with future pandemics: Wait And See.

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