Living with Pandemics

by Jon Thompson on April 15, 2020

From the CDC’s website for SARS:

Does the effectiveness of containment measures require 100% compliance?

No. Containment measures, including quarantine, are effective even if compliance is less than 100%. Even partial or “leaky” quarantine can reduce transmission. Therefore, strict legal enforcement is not necessarily always needed; in most cases, jurisdictions can rely on voluntary cooperation. Modeling studies of the relative contributions of quarantine and vaccination in control of smallpox outbreaks suggest a benefit from quarantine even when compliance is as low as 50%. The incremental benefit of quarantine approaches a maximum at a compliance rate of approximately 90%, with little additional benefit from higher rates of compliance. Therefore, containment measures can be important components of the response to a communicable disease outbreak even when compliance is not high.

It seems to me that we need to move the discussion to how do we integrate pandemics and other events into our daily lives and figure out how to avoid totally shutting down our lives and economy. I know many folks heavily impacted by the pandemic, myself included, and perhaps if we plan more effectively for future events we can greatly reduce the pain felt by the general population.

We knew the pandemic was coming but many local hospitals, state and Federal organizations failed to warehouse adequate stocks to ensure sustained provision during a prolonged pandemic. Those of us in the aid industry who have worked on epidemics in the past know all too well that adequate planning, maintaining a robust supply chain and sufficient warehousing is critical to properly managing an emergency.

Perhaps it is time for businesses to begin thinking about the next pandemic and how they might survive, albeit in a limited fashion, until the next pandemic subsides. Given that even partial quarantine can prove effective we might want to consider a phased shutdown as opposed to a full curtain drop. I realize that full shutdown is probably what is responsible for California’s low numbers but it also served as a gut punch to the economy. Why not ‘phase in’ the same way we are about to ‘phase out:

The reopening of the state will be less like flipping a light switch and more like adjusting a dimmer, Newsom said.

-The Sacramento Bee

Why can’t nail salons, hair salons, optometry shops, even grocery stores provide online scheduling of activities all the while ensuring proper social distancing while clientele are onsite. They may need to cordon off some chairs and reduce the total hours worked by staff but at least they are not completely eliminating the ability for a business to generate revenue. In the case of grocery stores physical changes to stores will be necessary in addition to some measures being taken. However, asking folks to wait in long lines in front, especially the elderly or handicapped, is not sustainable during most times of the year and certainly not during rainstorms in the winter or the blistering heat waves of summer.

People keep their distance from each other while waiting in line to enter a Trader Joe’s grocery store in San Francisco, Saturday, March 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

One way shopping lanes as some stores are starting to implement, wider aisles, spacing for checkout lines on the floor, regular sanitization of shopping carts, etc, could all help to lessen the likelihood that grocery stores will serve as transmission hubs for the virus and similar practices could be employed for less critical businesses. I am sure a lot of folks are going to be thinking about how exactly to build resiliency into each and every aspect of our everyday life. For my part, I hope they do so that we can start living with pandemics as we have begun to get used to living with our seasonal fires.

Odds are our next pandemic is a ways off. We will most likely experience resurgences throughout the year but hopefully not like anything we have seen to date. What we can do you is plan ahead for our next local emergency, the seasonal fires and the coming PSPS, which is just around and make sure we can ‘phase in’ and ensure that critical businesses continue to support our communities.

BTW, I love the fact that scientists are trying to figure out why have been so successful here in California:

Why it wasn’t worse: Scientists are scrambling to understand why mitigation efforts were so successful at flattening the curve in California. Some factors they cite:

  • Early social distancing. Even before the stay-at-home orders, Californians were beginning to keep clear of one another, while New Yorkers were still packing bars and restaurants.
  • A work-from-home culture. The practice was already commonplace in the state, spurred by the tech industry.
  • Experience with wildfires and earthquakes. The state government has built up extensive disaster-response machinery, and people are accustomed to heeding official orders in a crisis.
  • Lower-density life. The state’s solitary car culture and suburban sprawl are usually seen as liabilities. But in this case, “the more space you have, the less probability there is for transmission,” Moritz Kraemer of Oxford University said.

Leave a Comment