March 21, 2020

A Coronavirus Thought Experiment

For the sake of argument, suppose that we could immediately test everyone in the country for the coronavirus and instantly get test results. What would be our next step, and what would it accomplish?

The answer is straightforward. People who test positive for the coronavirus and who have serious respiratory symptoms should immediately be sent to a hospital; their condition is potentially life-threatening. People with a positive test but only mild symptoms—they may feel like they have a cold—and those who test positive but are asymptomatic should be confined somewhere where they have no contact with those who have had a negative test. Everyone else can safely resume normal activities and save the economic system from complete collapse. (We may need to use some disinfectant here and there.)

Eventually, the hospitalized will either recover and rejoin society or they will die. The isolates will be tested frequently. Those who clear the virus from their bodies can resume a normal life. Those who develop serious symptoms need to go to a hospital.

Under this plan, in time—perhaps not even a long time—everyone is either thriving in a normal life or is dead. To assure that the plan works, people arriving from outside the country must be tested like everyone else.

Of course, we do not have the tests or the personnel to carry out this experiment in the real world. On the other hand, it is instructive to compare this thought experiment to what we are actually doing. in particular, what our testing procedures are.

I hope we are not doomed.

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