Modeling COVID-19

Food for Thought

Day 44: My Instagram usage dropped since the arrival of the coronavirus. With all the restaurants dropping dead, showing what I cooked at home doesn’t feel all that exciting or interesting to me.

Many of my clients appear to be in a holding pattern, so I have some time to work on my own projects. I was contacted by a researcher who is developing a mathematical model for planning an exit strategy. He came across one of my articles and felt we were in sync about how we approach the problem. He had his model worked out in a spreadsheet, but I wanted to make it easier for anyone to play with his model, so I created an interactive version of it for the web.

Upon selecting a state or country, it automatically imports the latest data for the number of confirmed cases, plots them on a chart, and projects the future from it, taking into account the social distancing measures (both timing and degree). With this, you can be the governor of your state and figure out when to lift the shelter-in-place order and expand the categories of “essential workers.” As you play around with different schedules, you realize the enormity of the problem. There is no way to contain it without either killing the economy or the people.

It’s easy for corporate employees to suggest that we should all stay home until we have a vaccine, but that is not a reality for the majority in this world. If the economy remains shut any longer, millions of people will start dying, not from COVID-19 but from poverty or famines. Small businesses are going to be wiped out everywhere. (Read the sobering account of the owner of Prunes on NY Times.) Once we are done with containing the first wave, we’ll have to grapple with this moral/philosophical question of what we do next, and more importantly, why.