The idea here is to slow the spread of the coronavirus throughout the American population — so that fewer people will become seriously ill over any given time period. (“Flatten the curve.”) In very simple terms, we don’t want everybody to get sick at once — so that people are dying in hospital hallways waiting for ICU beds or respirators. This is exactly the nightmare playing out right now in Italy.
America currently has about 100,000 ICU beds.
In a moderate flu epidemic, approximately 200,000 people would need ICU beds.
If, God forbid, this epidemic should get as bad as the 1918 flu epidemic, approximately 2.9 million people would need ICU beds. (No, I obviously have no expertise in epidemiology, and I have no informed insight into the likelihood of this. From what I have seen, even the experts won’t commit to projections of how bad things may get.) The source of the above figures is this article in USA Today, but you can find the figures just about anywhere with a simple Internet search.
Most of us have seen news reports about people ignoring health authorities’ warnings about social distancing — whether it’s the bars of New York City, the beaches of Florida or the crowded streets of New Orleans at night. If you are one of these people, you are not only endangering yourself, but also other people who are less equipped to fight the disease. Experts believe that a significant factor in its spread is asymptomatic transmission; you can give it to someone else even if you do not feel or appear sick. This can include people for whom the illness is likely to be far more serious — people who are elderly or who have underlying health conditions. And they could die.
What sort of day at the beach or bar crawl could be worth that? How would you feel if you developed a mild case of the disease, but carried it to the 60-year-old man behind you in the line at the supermarket? What about your elderly neighbors? What about your parents?
What if your girlfriend is one of the younger people who nevertheless gets extremely sick? (Young people are not immune.) What if your boyfriend’s roommate has asthma? What if your friend’s younger sister has an autoimmune disease that you didn’t know about?
Going out doesn’t make you cool or tough or “edgy.” It just makes you willing to risk someone else’s life so that you can have a good time.
Practice social distancing. Stay home.