It’s Time to Assume COVID-19 Is Already in Your City

While thousands of cases of COVID-19 have been documented in other countries, in most of the United States, only a few positive tests are emerging. But we also don’t test for coronavirus as thoroughly as we do in other countries. I bet that wherever you are in the United States, there are already sick people in your city.

You don’t have to be paranoid, but even if your city has not yet reported a single case, consider how your perspective would change if you knew it had already happened. I think there are two important takeaways here:

Do not be surprised when the “first” cases appear

First, you shouldn’t be surprised if the local health department announces tomorrow, today, or next week that they have detected one or three cases of COVID locally. This almost certainly does not mean that the virus has just emerged; rather, it is more likely that the virus is already circulating and we are just beginning to identify cases that have already occurred.

The United States has tested very few people compared to what other countries have already done. As testing rolls out, it will take some time for the numbers to catch up. A bunch of to-do’s in one day is exactly what you’d expect, and it just means we’re aware of what’s been going on all along. We don’t know how many cases actually exist right now.

Avoid meetings as often as possible

So, what if the virus is in your city or you suspect it is?

Our best proof is that social distancing helps. The fewer opportunities people have to meet, the less opportunities we have for spreading the virus. This does not mean that you need to become a complete hermit, but I catch myself thinking: what if I find this somewhere? What if I give it to someone before I know I have it?

Last week I went on a planned trip, but I tried to wash my hands often, and now that I am back, I am not eager to visit the older family members. (It’s about protecting them in case I picked it up without knowing.) If I had plans to attend any big meeting in the future, I would change my mind. What are the chances that someone who visits that museum, party or festival is carrying the virus? Quite likely, to be honest.

This is why meetings are already being canceled, even if there is no reliable evidence that the coronavirus is circulating in your area. In the end, it’s wise to cancel everything before the virus begins to spread. With some luck, we will soon get more accurate data on where the virus appeared and where it did not appear. Until then, I’ll stay at home when I can.

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