Please, stay home.
As you know, we are in a pandemic, and to make sure we’re all on the same page, we should start with some facts: COVID-19 is an incredibly deadly disease that can kill one out of every seven people over the age of 80, one out of every 13 people between 70 and 80, one out of every 28 people between 60 and 70 and one out of every 77 people between 50 and 60. Even for young healthy people, it is thousands of times more dangerous than speeding down the road at 100 miles per hour for a short distance. COVID-19 is highly infectious, with each case expected to pass the disease onto just over two other people. We have no immunity, no vaccine, no known treatment and will continue to not have any of these things for at least several months. The federal government’s response has been lackluster and individual states don’t have the powers necessary to deal with a crisis of this scale. The United States has approximately 170,000 ventilators, but a pandemic on the scale of COVID-19 may require over 700,000. We don’t have that capacity, so if this is the case, people who would otherwise survive if given access to a ventilator will die. Interventions are needed, and they are not going to come from on high.
That’s why I’m asking you, begging you, to please stay home. A virus only dies out if its reproduction number (R0) is less than one. COVID-19 currently has an estimated R0 of around 3.3, which suggests exponential growth among the population. It’s possible to reduce R0, and for most diseases it’s easy: Get vaccinated. Influenza, smallpox, measles—these all have their R0 reduced by vaccines, which make it less likely that the disease passes from a sick person to a healthy person. But because there is no vaccine for the novel coronavirus, more drastic measures have to be taken.
“I leave my room only to use the bathroom and to boil water for food twice a day. This is my foreseeable future. I am a high-risk individual, and until there is a vaccine, my life is in constant danger.”
That measure is physically distancing yourself from other people. If you can, don’t leave your home. If you have to leave your home, maintain a minimum of six (but preferably 10) feet between you and anybody else. No hugging, kissing, handshakes, elbow bumps, nothing. You should be doing this if you’re young, old, high-risk, low-risk, healthy or already infected. It doesn’t matter what you are; what matters is reducing R0. Hopefully this will limit the total number of cases, and fewer cases means fewer deaths. But even if it doesn’t, it still will slow the spread, allowing turnover among those that need medical care and creating less of a bottleneck for medical care. In other words, even if we have the same number of cases, the cases could be spread out over time so that everybody can get a ventilator, or get a bed in an intensive care unit.
Physically distancing yourself doesn’t mean that you have to isolate yourself socially, however, which is part of the reason I’m not using the more common term “social distancing.” You can call friends, family, loved ones. If you know someone that has also been self-isolating for at least 14 days, then you can actually hang out and form what is called an isolation cell. This isolation cell is just a group of people who are only around each other, and so have an extremely low risk of infecting each other, while still being able to interact. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms actually do have a use after all. If you don’t want to interact with others online, there are still plenty of options: Read a book (I have recommendations), make a playlist, learn a new recipe, take an online course, play a video game or care for a plant.
Of course, I would never ask anyone to do something that I would be unwilling to do. I have been self-isolating since March 13. I leave my room only to use the bathroom and to boil water for food twice a day. This is my foreseeable future. I am a high-risk individual, and until there is a vaccine, my life is in constant danger. I do not get to see any of my closest friends, my partner or any other person I know. I do this not just to decrease my own risk, but because I feel it’s my moral duty to others as well. Nobody is going to save us. This is our new normal for months at the least. We have to preserve ourselves and each other. For the love of God, for my life, for the life of your loved ones, your parents and grandparents, for the sake of anybody who is a high-risk individual or who knows one, please stay home.