Why Is COVID-19 Like a Hurricane?

People keep asking me, “How do we stop this thing?” It’s a natural question. It tells me how hard it is for people to get their heads around what is happening. Based on what the President is saying and doing, I worry that some people believe that a technological solution can be found that will solve this problem.

Hurricane Dorian, September 2019

You might as well ask me how to stop a hurricane! The answer is: you can’t stop a hurricane, it will stop when nature runs its course.

Epidemics are a force of nature. Once they get started, just like a hurricane, there are dynamics in place that are not in our control. It’s not a technical problem, or a lack of intelligence, or a case of willpower. The White House believes that Google and technology and a vaccine will stop the epidemic. This is false.

Epidemics are like that. Once initial containment fails (as it has with COVID-19 in the U.S.), the forces of nature kick in. And like hurricanes, mother nature is very good at what she does. Viruses are much better at molecular biology than we are. The epidemic will end when there are not enough susceptible people left to sustain the cycle of community transmission. Period. Neither Google, LabQuest, Roche Pharmaceuticals nor Donald J. Trump can make this outbreak go away.

Don’t take this analogy too far! I am not making the case for fatalism. This doesn’t mean that there is nothing to be done any more than it does when a hurricane approaches. We should have prepared better, but we didn’t. Now the skies are dark and the wind has started. There are important and potent things we must do now to slow down the outbreak and limit transmission. The focus needs to be on the basic tools of epidemic control. Nothing fancy. Wash your hands, avoid crowds, prepare for disruption, keep your distance from sick people and realize that we all need to ride this storm out together. Our goal is to slow down the epidemic so that we can better manage the consequences and prevent unnecessary suffering and death. Don’t expect a high-tech solution to make it go away.

This is like a hurricane.


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