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Epidemiologist gives advice on fighting coronavirus

I’m not an expert on the COVID-19 virus by any stretch, but I study epidemics and have general knowledge and training that is applicable. Here are my thoughts on what’s happening and what we should do: 

First of all, we are going to see a tremendous increase in the number of cases of coronavirus in the coming days. This is not entirely because of some new pattern in the spread of the disease but rather due to a major change in the requirements to be tested.

Until recently, if you had a flu-like illness but had not recently traveled to China, Italy, South Korea or Iran, you could not be tested. This is just the way health care works; you get tested if you meet the case definition, and the case definition included travel.

Now, you can be tested if you are sick and have a doctor’s order to be tested. So expect things to feel a lot more panicky all of a sudden. We will see hundreds or thousands of new cases as testing increases.

Is the panic legitimate?

Sort of. But this is not the zombie apocalypse.

The death rate of 30 deaths per 1,000 cases is probably a wild overestimate. (The denominator is almost certainly wrong because it is confirmed cases, and we only confirm cases when we test for them.)

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