Y 2K

Do you remember Y 2k? That was when the world, or at least the computer driven portion of the world, was scheduled to end. The problem was that a lot of computer programs had been written with the assumption that all years started with 19. That was true from 1901 to 1999, but suddenly around 1995 people realized, with a gasp, that the year after 1999 was 2000. Virtually everyone predicted disaster. The company I worked for set up an entire Y 2k computer task force, gave them a huge budget and set them up in a special conference room. That task force worked full speed from 1997 through the end of 1999. No one thought it was enough. People were certain that New Years Day 2000 would be a disaster.

None of us knew what would happen. Some of the predictions were truly catastrophic. I was assigned to manage our risk management response and had our entire claim department on standby to handle developments. We started by watching the New Years Celebration in Sydney Australia. Nothing happened, other than the usual mistakes made by people who celebrated a little too hard. Then we watched New Years travel across the globe. We were very interested in what happened in London. Again, nothing. Finally, New Year’s Day arrived in New York City. Still Nothing. Chicago, nothing. Denver, nothing. By this time, it was obvious to everyone that Y 2k was a big dud. Now perhaps all the planning to prevent disaster really worked, or more likely the problem was a bit over-hyped in the first place. Regardless of why, the what was more than obvious by the time 2000 approached San Francisco. I thanked all the staff that had waiting so patiently to deal with disaster, and we all went down to the waterfront and watched the fireworks over San Francisco Bay.

Perhaps I am wrong, but this is starting to feel like Y 2k all over again. Oh, the virus is here, and a lot of people are getting sick, but, at least in the U.S., this is starting to look a lot less scary. So, I started looked at some facts, ignored by most of the media.

FACT Number one.  Not that many people have the virus.

Here in the U.S. the testing was slow, so the only people being tested were seriously ill or considered at risk. Yet, many reports show that 85% of these people were testing negative. About 36% of people tested in New York turned up positive, but New York is New York. No place else tested anywhere near this number.

A lot of people assumed and some still assume that there are all these people out there who have the virus with no symptoms. We don’t know that, of course, because they aren’t being tested. Some people think South Korea tested everyone, but that isn’t close to true. South Korea has over 50 million people. It tested 250,000. They ended up with 9,786 people testing positive. That is about 4%.

The Diamond Princess tested everyone and 15% tested positive. If there is any place on this planet where a virus is likely to spread rapidly, it is a cruise ship.

Here is California, we are only testing people who are ill and who are considered to be at risk. So far, about 8% of people are testing positive.

FACT Number Two.  We are just now starting to get real test data.

We have done over 1,000,000 tests and we have about 150,000 positive results. That looks like 15% but remember that about half of them are from New York which skews the results. In addition, the test results were coming in slow. It often took 6 or 7 days to get a result. Now we have a lot of tests that return results in 45 minutes and some new tests give results almost instantly. Less than 5 minutes to test positive, 15 minutes to prove negative.

Fact Number Three. There really aren’t that many deaths, anywhere, other than places like Spain and Italy.

Let’s face it. Even if the spread of the disease became just as bad here as it did in Italy, we would be unlikely to lose any many people. Our death rate is 9 per million. In Italy it is 192 per million. Of course, they have socialized medicine which is obviously so superior to our health care system.

As of now, we have had about 3,000 deaths. While this is likely to grow, it just seems like the predicted 100,000 deaths is a bit of a reach.

Fact Number Four. There are already signs the spread is slowing down.

Even in New York the rate of hospitalization is dropping rapidly. On Sunday it was estimated to double every 2 days. Now it is expected to double every 4 days.  A lot of people are predicting our hospitals will be overwhelmed, but so far that hasn’t happened. That is why ABC had to show video of a hospital in Italy, it couldn’t find good enough video in the U.S.

No one knows, but a couple of things seem beyond obvious. If only 15% of people who have serious symptoms test positive, why on earth would anyone expect a high percentage of people who have no symptoms to test positive. There is no evidence of that happening anywhere in the world. South Korea appears to have tested more than anyone and a whopping 4% are positive. Here is California, although we only test people with serious symptoms, only 8% are positive. Do we really believe that there is this large mass of people out there who really have this virus and don’t know it? I am not sure I buy that.

Our response is moving at the speed of light. In early March no one would have predicted the entire country would shut down like this. Yet, here we are. We already have vaccines; we have found several drugs that appear to be working and more are on the way. Do we really think none of this had an impact?

I went back and looked at the early studies and all had one thing in common. They assumed that huge percentage of the population would get the virus and that the death rate was about 4%. If both those assumptions were true, we would get about 2 million deaths. But are they true? Do you see any evidence of that? Does anyone have any evidence of that?

We will soon know. Like I said, feels like Y 2k in a lot of ways.


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