COVID-19: Two Things We Need to Know

“This virus is unforgiving to unwise choices.”

As the coronavirus is affecting all of us right now in a multitude of ways, it made sense to me to share the following missive.

This is from an infectious disease epidemiologist, as shared on this Facebook profile (with instructions to share widely. Please do!).

If you don’t want to read any further or could use a moment before diving in, I was looking at flowers this evening, deciding what I’d like to plant out on a gentle hill guarded by trees. These are the perennial astilbe.

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Here’s the post:

Hey everybody, as an infectious disease epidemiologist, at this point I feel morally obligated to provide some information on what we are seeing from a transmission dynamic perspective and how they apply to the social distancing measures.

Like any good scientist I have noticed two things that are either not articulated or not present in the “literature” of social media.

Specifically, I want to make two aspects of these measures very clear and unambiguous.

First, we are in the very infancy of this epidemic’s trajectory.

Our hospitals will be overwhelmed, and people will die that didn’t have to.

That means even with these measures we will see cases and deaths continue to rise globally, nationally, and in our own communities in the coming weeks.

This may lead some people to think that the social distancing
measures are not working.

They are.

They may feel futile.

They aren’t.

You will feel discouraged.

You should.

This is normal in chaos. But, this is also normal epidemic trajectory.

Stay calm.

This enemy that we are facing is very good at what it does; we are not failing. We need everyone to hold the line as the epidemic inevitably gets worse.

This is not my opinion; this is the unforgiving math of epidemics for which I and my colleagues have dedicated our lives to understanding with great nuance, and this disease is no exception.

We know what will happen; I want to help the community brace for this impact.

Stay strong and with solidarity knowing with absolute certainty that what you are doing is saving lives, even as people begin getting sick and dying.

You may feel like giving in.


Second, although social distancing measures have been (at least temporarily) well-received, there is an obvious-but-overlooked phenomenon when considering groups (i.e. families) in transmission dynamics.

While social distancing decreases contact with members of society, it of course increases your contacts with group (i.e. family) members. This small and obvious fact has surprisingly profound implications on disease transmission dynamics.

Study after study demonstrates that even if there is only a little bit of connection between groups (i.e. social dinners, playdates/playgrounds, etc.), the epidemic trajectory isn’t much different than if there was no measure in place. The same underlying fundamentals of disease transmission apply, and the result is that the community is left with all of the social and economic disruption but very little public health benefit.

You should perceive your entire family to function as a single individual unit; if one person puts themselves at risk, everyone in the unit is at risk.

Seemingly small social chains get large and complex with alarming speed.

If your son visits his girlfriend, and you later sneak over for coffee with a neighbor, your neighbor is now connected to the infected office worker that your son’s girlfriend’s mother shook hands with.

This sounds silly, it’s not.

This is not a joke or a hypothetical.

We as epidemiologists see it borne out in the data time and time again and no one listens.

Conversely, any break in that chain breaks disease transmission along that chain.

In contrast to hand-washing and other personal measures, social distancing measures are not about individuals, they are about societies working in unison.

These measures also take a long time to see the results.

It is hard (even for me) to conceptualize how ‘one quick little get together’ can undermine the entire framework of a public health intervention, but it does.

I promise you it does.

I promise. I promise. I promise.

You can’t cheat it. People are already itching to cheat on the social distancing precautions just a “little”- a playdate, a haircut, or picking up a needless item at the store, etc.

From a transmission dynamics standpoint, this very quickly recreates a highly connected social network that undermines all of the work the community has done so far.

Until we get a viable vaccine this unprecedented outbreak will not be overcome in grand, sweeping gesture, rather only by the collection of individual choices our community makes in the coming months.

This virus is unforgiving to unwise choices.

My goal in writing this is to prevent communities from getting ‘sucker-punched’ by what the epidemiological community knows will happen in the coming weeks.

It will be easy to be drawn to the idea that what we are doing isn’t working and become paralyzed by fear, or to ‘cheat’ a little bit in the coming weeks.

By knowing what to expect, and knowing the importance of maintaining these measures, my hope is to encourage continued community spirit, strategizing, and action to persevere in this time of uncertainty.

March 2020: Where to find my books

My children’s book publisher, MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing, alerted me that Amazon will not be ordering or replenishing any non-essential item. This includes books. The physical kind, that is! There are, however, alternative avenues I’ll list below.

First I wanted to say how completely understandable this decision is.

COVID-19 is something we’re all still adjusting to, even if we’re lucky enough not to have the disease or be worried about a friend or family member who does.

We’re worried about balancing work and home life, about still having to go to a physical place of work, about being sequestered in our homes and creating a work space where none existed, about our multi-generational households, about our own fear and stress and the fear and stress we pick up from others.

The small stuff gets magnified and the large stuff can seem insurmountable. We’re not in this alone, but it can feel that way.

Amazon and other such suppliers will hopefully continue to provide items people need that they can’t get anywhere else.

With all that, my publisher is one of the many adjusting to keeping life going, as it were. MacLaren-Cochrane is a small operation. At the date of this post, the owner believes they’ll still be able to drop-ship from the printer as long as the printer continues operations.

If you’d like to order my books to put entertainment, adventures, and learning material in your children’s hands, please check these places if Amazon shows out of stock or there is no ebook option:

MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing

  • My author page (links to all versions of Hush, Mouse! and The Squeezor is Coming!)

All of my children’s books, self-published and traditional

At this time, I have not heard that Black Hare Press, which I contribute adult sci-fi/fantasy stories to, has been similarly affected. You can continue to go to Amazon for those stories (link leads to my Books page).

Thank you for supporting small businesses with all of the everything-else going on! I hope you and yours stay healthy and safe.