BREAKING: Today, I am recommending the cancellation of all public gatherings of 250+ people, including parades, concerts, and sporting events.
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) March 12, 2020
According to infectious disease epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch, it’s “plausible” that 20 to 60 percent of adults will be infected with Covid-19 disease. With an estimated case fatality rate of around 1 percent, a scenario is possible of tens or hundreds of thousands of deaths in the US alone.
What epidemiologists fear most is the health care system becoming overwhelmed by a sudden explosion of illness that requires more people to be hospitalized than it can handle. In that scenario, more people will die because there won’t be enough hospital beds or ventilators to keep them alive.
A disastrous inundation of hospitals can likely be averted with protective measures we’re now seeing more of — closing schools, canceling mass gatherings, working from home, self-quarantine, self-isolation, avoiding crowds — to keep the virus from spreading fast. Epidemiologists call this strategy of preventing a huge spike in cases “flattening the curve”:
Flattening the curve means that all the social distancing measures now being deployed in places like Italy and South Korea, and on a smaller scale in places like Seattle and Santa Clara County, California, aren’t so much about preventing illness but rather slowing down the rate at which people get sick.
The CDC advises that people over age 60 and people with chronic medical conditions — the two groups considered most vulnerable to severe pneumonia from Covid-19 — to “avoid crowds as much as possible.”