Covid-19 is not the flu, it is not SARS. It is very much worse and will be very disruptive. It has a very long contagious asymptomatic time period. It remains contagious for a long time after mild symptoms have subsided. Many competent analyses point to an R0 number of between 4.7 and 7 ! This is more than double of what SARS had. Being a coronavirus it is also very likely that vaccine development will be problematic due to antibody-dependent enhancement which caused the SARS vaccine to fail animal trials since it actually made the virus more lethal (similar but in an opposite way to how the vaccine for Dengue fever can actually kill someone who has already been exposed to Dengue in the past).
The South Korean government has tested over 80,000 people and has been very transparent and pro-active in trying to contain this virus and push out the incidence curve so that hospitals don’t get overwhelmed by critically ill cases. South Korea is testing over 10,000 people a day as I write this. Meanwhile, in the US, we are fumbling around trying to get testing setup. The current rate of death, though relatively high as a percentage of the vulnerable populations who become critically ill, is not the biggest problem — it’s the high numbers of the infected who become critically ill. This critical illness is not simple to treat and can easily overwhelm hospitals. In recent Senate hearings the HHS director admitted that the country does not have at this time anything near the numbers of respirators that will likely be needed — and that the supply chain for such units includes China — oops! And he was being questioned by a Republican Senator.
The US government in contrast has been smug and incompetent and is struggling to provide tests. People are panicking because of the incompetence of our own arrogant and incompetent governments. In South Korea the government tests everybody suspected of being infected and who had contact with the infected person. Citizens have an app on their phone which tells them if they have been in contact with an infected person and where the infected person spent time so that testing can be completed if you suspect you may have been exposed. If you need to self-quarantine while you wait for medical personnel to come to your home to test you the government will arrange for food drop-offs etc. Here in the good ol’ USA we get squat. Oh, we do get smug reassurances from our leaders and silly criticism from conspiracy-minded libertarians telling us to forget community health and just play the culling of the herd game like a good little hyper-individualist!
There could rapidly develop a shortage of intensive care required by critical Covid-19 patients. Especially if we keep doing dumb things like fail to contain aerosol transmission from hospital admitted patients like the ones identified in California and Wahington. That failure immediately took over 10 medical personnel off the front line since now they are quarantined at home for many weeks. Soon things will be worse here percentage-wise than in Korea and we will only have ourselves to blame — not because we panicked, but because we didn’t panic sooner about our abysmally low public health funding and our rapacious medical finance system. I predict that our hospitals will be overwhelmed by this and that anyone who didn’t panic and is stuck at home with food running out will be pissed off at everyone. Such things ARE the fault of poor government that tries to hide a lack of preparedness with a lack of transparency.