Is the Coronavirus a Once-In-A-Century Pathogen? Likely not

From quillette Dealing With a Once-In-A-Century Pathogen

In 2018, Gates made another warning. Noting that people can now travel across the globe in a matter of hours, he said that a pathogen similar to SARS could kill 30 million people in six months.


A new pathogen has now emerged. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was first detected in Wuhan, China in late December, 2019. As of March 2nd, 2020, more than 90,000 cases have been confirmed, and 70 countries have been affected, with the most serious outbreaks in mainland China, South Korea, Italy, and Iran. Over 2,900 people have died in China and 175 have died in other countries

Um…yeah…except that 137 is a long way from even a million, let alone 30 million. Maybe we should wait before trumpeting out the self-congratulatory, smug ‘I told you so.’ I’m getting tired of virus alarmism. Bill Gates wants so badly to not be known as only ‘a computer guy.’ He wants to be a prophet, a visionary, the messiah. That is not to say it cannot happen, but the current death count is comparable to past epidemics that proved to be self-limiting such as SARS, Swine Flu, Ebola, etc. The 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak had 11,315 deaths, about 3.5x the number of deaths as COVID 19. Of course, Ebola was only limited to 6 countries, but just naively extrapolating the exponential growth rate, in theory, it should have killed millions. The Swine Flu (H1N1 ) epidemic of 2009 had about 12,500 deaths and anywhere from 150,000-500,000 cases. This goes to show the folly of trying to extrapolate exponential growth into the future. As we saw with China, the number of cases abruptly slowed at 75k after having gone experiential. As the Quillete article correctly notes, that is attributable to sweeping action taken by the Chinese government, but it is also possible that it would have been self-limiting anyway. But you don’t need the government to impose martial law. Individuals will change their behavior on their own accord, such as traveling less, wearing masks, or washing their hands more often. Firms will have more people work from home.

It has now been 7 weeks weeks since the first US case was reported, yet the number of cases has not mushroomed, but rather has increased gradually at 3-10 or so new cases a day. Same for other countries. For two weeks now, I have been seeing projections and pronouncements of there being “tens of thousands or more” cases in the US, yet almost 2 months into this and we’re still below 200. The nine US deaths in King Country are patients in a nursing home, a very high risk group. Maybe the virus is not as virulent as originally feared.

Thanks in part to a massive 1/2 point rate cut, the S&P 500 has surged from 2900 last week to now 3115. It is still 260 points off its all-time highs, but I think it will recover quickly and make new highs soon.I haven’t changed any of my investments. I also plan to finish the wealth creation guide, specially about dollar cost averaging. With the market having fallen so much, now would be a great time to implement it. I would be buying TQQQ now. Bill Gates may be great at marketing overpriced buggy software, but a prophet he is not.

Continuing on, the article regrettably makes an elementary epidemiology mistake, although it is a common one and she is hardly the only one guilty of it:

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, assessing 72,000 reported cases in mainland China, estimates the virus to have a two percent fatality rate (rising to 49 percent in the critically ill), with an incubation period of one to 14 days. Around a quarter of patients develop a “severe” case requiring intensive care, and approximately 10 percent require mechanical ventilation. Symptoms include fever, dry cough, fatigue, headache, sore throat, abdominal pain, and diarrhoea.

Given that most patients report mild symptoms that may be indistinguishable from the flu or the common cold, we can assume that the number of reported cases is less than the number of total cases. This is both good and bad news because it means that the virus may be more widespread than assumed, but it also means the morality rate is much lower too. Let’s assume that 10,000 people get infected and show symptoms, and maybe only 100 get sick enough that they go to the hospital and get tested, and of those, 2 die, giving the oft-quoted 2% fatality rate. People with only mild illness will likely not go to the hospital and get tested, thinking they only have a cold or the flu. We cannot know for sure what the fatality rate is unless one deliberately infects a sample size of homogeneous, healthy individuals and track the outcome. This also explains the huge variance of purported morality estimates for COVID-19, from as low as half a percent to as high as 10%. Influenza has a high morality rate too when the the sample size is restricted to people admitted to intensive care.

Several CEOs in the tech industry are not waiting for local government leadership to implement self-distancing and are taking their own pre-emptive measures. Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, has ordered his 5,000 employees to work from home, while announcing that the company is suspending all non-critical business travel and events. Stripe CEO, Patrick Collison, has similarly encouraged, and in some cases mandated, remote work for his company’s employees. Just last month, the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz was criticised in the US press for discouraging handshakes inside its office, yet three weeks later the US military urged its own personnel to do the same.

Oh Jack our dear leader. How benevolent of him. Maybe he can un-ban some of those accounts while he is at it.