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Of Exponents and Atlas Shrugged

There's a dangerous notion afoot that we should fully reopen the economy right now. Moreover, some are advocating just letting the virus have full run. They assert that the survivors will have herd immunity and America will return to the greatness of rugged individualism.

Someone needs to put down his copy of Atlas Shrugged.

He needs to start reading about epidemics and economics. He needs to learn about exponentiation. Yes, that's a word. It's the how fast this outbreak growsat an exponential rate. That means that when you graph the actual number of US cases day-by-day it looks like this:
Source: CDC
Source: Merriam-Webster
You can see that from the first reported case on January 22nd, the numbers remained very small until late March. Then they exploded. As of April 16 the total number of reported cases is 661,712 with 33,049 deaths. Those are only the confirmed cases, not all cases. Because of the failure of our federal government to organize reliable testing at scale, we cannot currently confirm even suspected cases. Most cases go undetected because they are asymptomatic. Meaning that the person has no:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Chills
  • Repeated shaking with chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell

These infected individuals can spread the virus without knowing they have it. They can remain asymptomatic and infectious for up to 2 weeks. Because our testing rate is not close to what we need just to understand the spread of the virus, many people are spreading it unknowingly. It's a case where ignorance can kill.

On Friday, our president called for the residents of Michigan, Minnesota, and Virginia to "LIBERATE" themselves from the lockdown. (Yes, he did all caps.) Just to add some spice, he called on Virginians to  “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” Okay, take a breath and then let's consider the political reasoning behind this call.

Clearly, the president wants a popular uprising to resist the Democratic governors of these three states, including a strong implication to use "2nd Amendment" remedies. He did not call on the residents of California, New Jersey, or New York to take similar action because he has no hope of winning their electoral votes come November. Nor did he focus on the locked-down states of Ohio or Mississippi or Texas because they have GOP governors. He chose Michigan, Minnesota, and Virginia so he can thump his chest in the hopes to rile supporters in those states by picking fights with their opposition party governors.

If the Atlas Shrugged-clutching crowd decides to march in the streets or hold rallies, the number of infected people will not slow down and will continue to climb. It will be a tragedy of greater illness and death to come. If the protesters decide to show up armed, then the chances of an immediate tragedy escalate by exponentiation.

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