Coronovirus is starting to concern me more than it did two weeks ago, and not just because looking at the market I’m starting to break out my old Great Recession jokes (“Why is the financial crisis worse than divorce? You lose half your assets and you’re still married…”). I even had my first coronovirus dream last night, where I was laying over at an LAX airport hotel and realized that my wife and I were headed off on a trip to Beijing and Shanghai.
Of over 81,000 confirmed cases 96% are still in mainland China but it’s spread – the largest spread so far to South Korea, but also Italy, Japan and Iran. Here’s a map of current COVID-19 cases.
The good news is that over 30,000 confirmed cases have recovered. The bad news is that over 2700 have died so far. The most vulnerable are those with pre-existing conditions that make them more vulnerable. I have a daughter who is less than one and a half.
The majority of cases in the U.S. are off the Diamond Princess cruise ship. Infected passengers went into quarantine. Let’s assume that was done effectively. However there’s the Korean Air flight attendant who tested positive, and did an LAX roundtrip a week and a half ago. The odds they were a super spreader is low, but it’s certainly imaginable that they infected passengers. Those passengers went home, some of them came back to the airport and flew again. They may have infected airport employees and flight attendants, who continued to interact with passengers and fly.
Even if that flight attendant didn’t cause much of a spread there will be others. It’s possible that measures to cordon off the U.S. from coronovirus arrivals slows down the spread but that the spread happens inevitably. A flight attendant off of American’s Dallas Fort-Worth – Seoul flight picks it up on their layover, for instance, despite precautions and brings it back to the states without realizing it. Or a Cathay Pacific flight crewmember brings it with them. Maybe they’re sick and staying at a JFK airport hotel with poor plumbing that causes the virus to spread to other rooms, to hotel workers, and so on.
I don’t want to overstate the risk. Instead what i’m thinking about is long tail risk and I’m more incentivized than average to guard against it because of my young daughter.
It means I’m already considering cancelling a Europe trip in the spring (I’ll wait and see how the virus develops). It means I’m more conscious about washing my hands regularly and thoroughly, especially during travels. And it means being prepared to work from home for an extended period of time, ideally without going out for supplies.
- Asking what would it mean to be self-quarantined for 2-4 weeks?
- What supplies do I need, from extra water to non-perishable food?
- What would contingencies look like in the event of loss of basic municipal services like power and potable water?
I’m not locking myself in a cabin in the woods. I’m doing the disaster-preparedness thinking that I should have done already, unrelated to coronovirus.
The closest analogue in my lifetime may have been Y2K preparedness, and that turned out to be a nothingburger. It was sure eerie to be flying on January 1, 2000 on board a nearly empty United Airlines Boeing 777 from Los Angeles to Washington Dulles. The plane didn’t just operate, it operated on time, and everything else worked fine too.
However the thing about disasters is they aren’t exactly predictable in terms of how or when they manifest, and thinking through preparedness can make good sense even if this turns out to be a non-event in the middle of the U.S. where I live.