The Coronavirus Issue - Startlingly Awesome and Refreshingly Modest Returns

Well, it’s been six months. A few things have changed. I stopped being Inntopia’s Director of Marketing and am now doing marketing consulting for only the smartest, best looking clients.

I stopped publishing this newsletter for a week or two while I regrouped, and then I got addicted to people asking why I hadn’t sent one in a while, and now here we are.

Oh, and the world imploded due to what is clearly the worst outbreak of disease in a long, long time.

I’ve spent a lot of time reading about this thing. Probably you have too, but since my Twitter feed has some stuff yours doesn’t, I thought I’d collect the best of what I’ve found and share.

Let me know if you have anything good I’ve missed. I’ll throw it in the next issue.


Okay, so first, what the hell is this thing called?

The virus is called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2. You might notice that SARS in there. They’re like virus cousins. And the experience several Asian countries had fighting SARS a while back is the reason they did such a good job fighting this one. In retrospect, if they’d struggled a bit more to put a lid on it in Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea, we might not have waited so long to act in the U.S.

The disease, or set of symptoms, that is caused by SARS-CoV-2 is called COVID-19. Why? Because it’s the 19th unique disease caused by a coronavirus that the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified.

One thing that you have to get used to if you’re serious about understanding this disease and how governments are responding to it is acronyms and initialisms.

One thing you do not have to get used to is anyone calling it the “Chinese Virus” in a transparent effort to shift blame.

Of course, that bit of bigotry is nothing new. The Spanish Flu didn’t even start in Spain [~15 minute read].


Next, how bad is it? Are we overreacting or under-reacting?

I’ll give you two great places to start.

The first is a fairly amazing video explainer that I really don’t understand how they had time to complete already. But it’s terrific.

The Coronavirus Explained & What You Should Do [8:34 watch]

The second is a super-well-researched post over on Medium by a startup founder who has stopped doing his job to do full-time coronavirus research.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say he’s smart. Read it. It’s terrific.

Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance [~20 minute read]

In addition, you might be interested in this account from a young person who contracted the virus and got very, very sick before finally getting treated.

Or this really gut-wrenching video from an Italian hospital struggling to deal, complete with quarantined families unable to say goodbye as their loved ones die and are placed in rooms full of coffins.


My takeaway from both of those sources, and the many that they cite for their analysis, is that we probably waited too long to act in the U.S., and thus are probably in for a world of hurt in a lot of the country.

Specifically, by world of hurt I mean hospitals being over capacity, leading to many people dying of the disease itself, and many more dying because the hospitals are so busy treating COVID-19.

Based on the math in the Hammer and Dance article above, it looks like the 19,772 cases and 279 deaths reported in the US as of March 20 mean there are actually between 223,000 and 535,000 current infections in the US.

That is a scary number, but it’s even scarier if it keeps doubling every couple of days like it has in New York and Washington state. A drive around Texas today convinced me there are plenty of people not taking this seriously for it to keep spreading pretty fast.

I don’t want to be a downer, but if I had to take an educated guess, I would predict multiple millions of US deaths by the time this is “over” in the next couple of months. If that sounds high, read the article above and get back to me with your take.

Bottom line: If you hadn’t previously taken the advice to stay home seriously, go ahead and do that.

And if you’re curious why we’d essentially kneecap the economy and cause ourselves so much grief when there’s only a few hundred people dead, take a look at this truly amazing article that walks you through how exponential things like pandemics work [it’s worth it, don’t worry about how long it is], and why you have to act when it still seems really insignificant.

Every time someone reads it, it runs a new simulation! Crazy. Go give it a try.


Can we cure it? What about a vaccine?

The use of anti-malarial drugs in France has made the news in the last 24 hours, and it does show some promise. It’s way too early to breathe any kind of sigh of relief, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed along with everyone else.

Here’s a good rundown of all the drugs being trialed or developed right now:

Biopharma’s leading treatment hopes against COVID-19 [~5 minute read]

A vaccine is definitely possible, but RNA-based organisms evolve much more quickly than DNA-based ones, so even if we get one ready within a few months, this is going to be a long-term problem like the flu, not a short-term one like what’s a good substitute for toilet paper.

There are already 573 different strains in 10 different groups, where any future vaccine would only work on a single group. The one in the US is different from the ones everywhere else.


Could we have done better?

I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but yes. It seems obvious that our government knew about the outbreak and how serious it was back in January.

This Washington Post article [~10 minute read] goes into some pretty infuriating detail about what was known and when.

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that several senators who were privy to intelligence briefings on the situation sold millions of dollars worth of stock before the market crashed, but perhaps the best illustration of the doublespeak is this video, which I’m breaking SAARM tradition by including a thumbnail of to entice you to click on it.

Because Mr. Trump somehow has a past tweet that is a perfect criticism of all of his future actions, I would be remiss if I didn’t link to this beauty.

Of course, it wasn’t just our government with their heads in the sand. It looks like Austrian authorities actively ignored and suppressed reports that the ski resort town of Ischgl was a hotbed of infections [~10 minute read], leading to rapid spread from there around the world.

And of course it wasn’t just governments. I generally try to stay away from partisan politics in this newsletter, but it is impossible and would be irresponsible to ignore the effect that Fox News had on how Americans reacted and are reacting.

There is a very important person in my family’s life who is in her late 60s and has a compromised immune system due to cancer treatment. She should be more worried and more careful than almost anyone else, and yet up until the pundits on Fox News changed their tune a couple of days ago she was adamant that there was nothing to be afraid of, and that it was all a liberal conspiracy to make the president look bad.

What do I mean by “changed their tune”? Perhaps I’m assuming or exaggerating? Have a look [~2 minute watch].

That’s not cool, Fox News! Stop making everything into a fight, please. Please? Please!


I’ll leave you with two things:

First, this website that will train you not to touch your face. It’s really fun and funny and oh god I keep doing it.

Second, this comic ode to introverts that just keeps making me laugh.


Hang in there, everyone. And wash your hands. Like this.