Don't be scared

But in spite of the title of this article, it is possible that I might next scare you just a bit. 

So if you're a person who is already tired of hearing about COVID-19.

If you just don't want to hear any more bad news. 
Perhaps you should consider not reading the rest of this article. Seriously.

This article serves, or seeks to serve, to give a clear motivation for taking containment measures seriously. It seeks to give a little push towards changing habits, developing new habits, that are likely going to succeed, in bringing and end to this epidemic. But this will only happen, if those new habits are religiously applied, and starting right now.

If such measures are not implemented, primarily at a personal level, but also by government agencies, then what follows, like it or not, exactly as presented or not, may likely become a reality. Curently in Belgium, there is no official government in place, since the elections last August.

Q: "Wait. How does that work?" 

A: "I don't know."


So now let me proceed to scare you just a little bit.

I also absolutely promise, that I will also address in another article to follow, exactly what "... changing habits, developing new habits," means exactly. You shouldn't have to feel scared (when you weren't before), and then have to feel alone as well.


Here's the bad news, then I'll give you the good news.

(Last chance to leave, now).


I read an article 2 days ago by a local epidemiologist here in Belgium, Marc Wathelet, who presents himself as "a coronavirus expert." 


For some time, he has been at odds with the public health sector of government, from top to bottom. Here is the full version, but it's in French. I selected three excerpts for the present subject.


  1. he explains exponential growth to his readers, and suggests the numbers that such viral growth will generate here in Belgium. Then he gripes that the government has been ignoring him, his data, and suggestions, quite completely. He says that their containment measures are too light and just won't work in Belgium.
  2. he explains why the WHO numbers coming out of China, and describing their recovery from the virus, are essentially made up.
  3. Finally he gives a doubling-time value of 2.4 which is often quoted in current epidemiologic literature for COVID-19. So he selects this value, and shows how it translates into an atomic bomb or handheld dynamite blast to explain how this virus will soon spread in Belgium, also explosively. This was not done with subtelty, but he made his point.


My doubling-time estimate

Using Belgian Public Health reports on a daily basis, I calculated doubling-time, using the number of confirmed cases. I covered how I calculate doubling-time in another article. Again, these are not data from China, texts, or the literature. It's not data extrapolated to world prevalence. It's right here, right now. 


So curves of data from Public Health, like this :


COVID-19 Cas confirmés en Belgique - 9 mars


Can be restated to define predictive relationships, like this, with equations and correlation values, etc:


Cas Confirmés par SPF Santé publique - exponentiel - 9 mars

I was surprised that the error estimates were so high. This was probably responsible for initiating thoughts about results manipulation at the lab end of things. No proof of that. Belgium currently has the highest positive test rate (8.5% today) of those reported worldwide. 


COVID-19 Tests in Belgium, compared


But if it were true, what follows would be multiplying their errors. So be it.

Again, my doubling-time values, calculated using two different equations, were 1.014 and 1.171 days, for confirmed cases to double in number.


How can one apply that? Typically to see how fast things will be moving right along.

Prédit - population 100% COVID-19 positive en Belgique

This predicts the percent of the Belgian population that will be COVID-19 test positive (= "confirmed cases" here by definition) by a certain date. What's the important date? April 3 (at 4:53:37AM), 99,8% of Belgians will be infected with COVID-19. No need to look at later dates.


If we don't change anything. If we don't act where it is possible ...

The figures and their relationship suggests that on April 3, 2020, 100% of the Belgian population will be positive for the coronavirus. Differences between Mr. Wathelet's conclusions and mine depend on this difference in the value of time to double. Even though I resisted quite a bit his way of presenting his forecasts, my "time to double" calculations suggest that it will go even faster than he had said.


Permit me to press the panique button just one last time

(Last time, promise).


Death Rates

It is true that older people and those who are already sick are more at risk for this undesirable result.

Here is a representation of recent figures:


Estimated Coronavirus Fatality Rates by Age Group (@DorsaAmir)

By now, you've heard that about age. Not too surprising for a pneumonia.


And here is the likely result in Belgium, IF we do not respond to this challenge.

(Which assumes that we can).


As of April 3, 2020:   771,152 deaths predicted in Belgium.


Prédit - Décès en Belgique dû au COVID-19

Looking at that graph, if nothing else, one can say that there is still time to do whatever is possible to contain spread.


"OK! That's about enough!"

It would be cruel, unusual and unmerited punishment to leave you with no hope at this point. That was not the goal.


The goal is to clarify in time, that this is serious business. If you haven't yet caught onto that, you are in error and should switch mindset. These numbers have already been worked out for HIV, H1N1, influenza, and Ebola virus. Ebola, by the way, has a narrower rate of transmission from one person to others, than COVID-19.


If nothing can be done to beat this,  then presenting the above material would be cruel and unusual punishment for the reader. But many things can and should be done. Soon. I'll try to cover that without too much delay. So many already have, but for basic responses to COVID-19, opinions often seem to vary (using masks, for instance). Lots of people are working on this, and may eventually get it right.


As things evolve, we should too

Several readers have reminded me that just a few days ago, I was strongly in favor of the idea that this COVID-19 thing would be mostly gone by April 6, or 10, or 18th at the latest. I still entertain a hope that that might miraculously happen.


Fun with Numbers - March 5, 2020



When I did medical and surgical research, I shared my excitement about results with almost everyone. Seeing how they reacted, and hearing what they thought was important and part of the learning process. But it was not my style to hide my results, and wait to see what history decided. If my results met my stringent criteria, anyone could share my enthusiasm, or show me my error. Which I welcomed. 


Scientific research must be based on good data, deep knowledge, imagination, dogged persistence and luck. I almost left out, funding.


I had made a sign in those days and hung it above my desk. I wrote on it, "If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be research."


"Chance only favors prepared minds." (Louis Pasteur)

I did believe strongly in my conclusions for April 6 being an end point. That conclusion was based on solid data. But those data have now changed a great deal. That doesn't mean they were bad data, quite the contrary. So I shared them with that spirit in mind. Scientific opinion should be based on good data and insight. But if the data do in fact change, one can and should change one's opinion.


Here's today's "look."

Active Cases Polynomial - March 9, 2020


Otherwise, such investment in one's erroneus opinion, becomes bluff.

So yes, I have switched mindset, but without losing hope nor abandoning a positive attitude and approach.


If I thought that nothing can be done to defeat this virus, it would also be a cruel, unusual and undeserved punishment to share these worrisome data.


But there is much that can and should be done. It's interesting to witness how others are reacting to this.


I'll try to group and summarize my "what to do's" ASAP. 


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