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The COVID-19 virus (or novel coronavirus) is a highly contagious and unusually lethal pathogen whose spread across the globe has led the World Health Organization to declare it a pandemic. It originated in Wuhan, China in late 2019 and spread to Europe and the United States by early 2020.[1] It poses the greatest global public health risk since the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.

This page reflects my attempt to make sense of the pandemic and how it has affected my life and community in Orange County, California. This article by Ed Yong in The Atlantic provided the most informed comprehensive account I have read on the topic:

Why It's Serious

Exponential Growth

Viruses like this spread exponentially where most humans tend to think of things in linear terms. As one Hacker News commentator put it:

Human beings do not intuitively understand exponential growth. It's just too fast for our primitive brains. In some sense, we are standing in the middle of the road, frozen like deer in the headlights.[2]

This Washington Post article did a great job of demonstrating how explosively the virus could spread:


This graph provided by the NY Times in February 2020, before the virus had spread widely in America, helped me first understand why public health experts were so much more concerned about this novel coronavirus than the flu:

In short, the virus is both deadlier and more contagious than the flu.[3]


Most humans have no acquired immunity to the virus. A vaccine is unlikely for 2-4 years.[4] We have no sure idea how society will respond to the crisis.

Why You Should Be Personally Worried

Your Health

Covid-19 is unusually fatal and even when it does not kill you can do serious damage to your personal health. Here's the first first-hand account I came across describing how serious even a non-fatal case can be for a health person. It also foresaw what a mess the American response to the virus has been:

For a graphic example of the toll the disease can take on a healthy person, see these before-and-after photos shared by a Bay Area nurse who contracted the disease:

The disease is unpredictable and symptoms can persist for months. This Atlantic article describes the plight of "long-haulers", people with technically "mild" cases who suffer "relentless waves of debilitating symptoms":

Even after recovery, many patients report serious ongoing health complications. The loss of taste and smell associated with the disease is often treated as a curiosity. But it's impact on quality of life should not be underestimated:

Finally, although statistics indicate the virus generally goes easier on young healthy people, they can still be a vector of transfer to more vulnerable older people.[5] So keep your parents, grandparents, and neighbors in mind as you weigh the risks.

Your Finances

Although politicians have promised that government will offset costs of the disease, actual policy in the United States will largely driven by the private for-profit companies that dominate the American health care system. For an example of the hardships, if not total utter financial ruin, this may cause people who require medical treatment, see this New York Times article:

Social and Economic Disruption

The virus has caused mass unemployment and social disruption. While stock markets have so far remained strong after an early scare, many shops and restaurants (the parts of the economy dearest to me) have closed.

In the United States, misinformation spread by right-wing political organizations and dishonest public officials has already fueled protests and increased political polarization.

If the epidemic persists and is not effectively controlled, it also threatens wider social disruption like that depicted in the movie Contagion:

Why Worry? The Fatal Rate is Less than 1%

I answered this on Reddit:

Reopening America

Checklists, Guidelines, and Roadmaps

Why Social Distancing Matters

To understand the importance of social distancing measures, see this excellent Washington Post simulation:

Even if it only slows down the spread of the virus, this can be critical as it can help keep the medical system from being overwhelmed as it was in China and Italy. The goal is to "flatten the curve":

The Risks

To understand the risks you face in going out in public before a reliable vaccine or treatment is available, I highly recommend this article by Biology professor Dr. Erin Bromage:


My Google Sheets

My company has offices in Costa Mesa, CA and Grand Rapids, MI. Within a few days of the United States declaring a national emergency on March 13th, we started working full-time from home. In May, when we started talking about returning to the office, I put together these tables and charts to give me a better view of the state of the epidemic:

Public Sources


My Forecasts

Additional Information

Reddit Communities

Pinboard Bookmarks

For additional information that I have been collecting, see my Pinboard bookmarks:


  1. For a well documented timeline, see this NY Times article:
  4. How quickly a vaccine can be rolled out is another matter. I have a bet with a colleague at the Scripps Institute. He thinks it will be four years. I think it will be 18 months...
  5. See this comparison of Italy and South Korea for insights into the role of age: