It’s hard for many to grasp the potential impact of coronavirus spreading through the population, particularly in countries that either haven’t had as many cases yet, or don’t have adequate testing to confirm just how much it’s already spread.

Experts have warned that despite COVID-19 having an estimated 2% fatality rate, the issue that will complicate matters tremendously is if too many people catch it at once and overload the healthcare system in a given country. But still, it’s difficult to imagine what that looks like, as it’s not something most of us have lived through before.

But biologist Liz Specht took the time to break down the numbers on Twitter recently, to show people just how important it is to do what we can to stop the disease from spreading rapidly.

First, she puts forth the idea that there were probably around 2000 cases in the US as of March 6th.

The CDC’s failure to provide adequate testing to people displaying symptoms has made it impossible to confirm just how many Americans are infected, but Specht hazarded a guess of 8x the number confirmed at the time.

She also says this number will likely double every 6 days, putting us at one million infected by the end of April, in the United States alone.

And that’s when our healthcare system will start to collapse.

“As the healthcare system begins to saturate under this case load, it will become increasingly hard to detect, track and contain new transmission chains,” she writes. “In absence of extreme interventions, this likely won’t slow significantly until hitting >>1% of susceptible population.”

Specht explains that the U.S. only has 2.8 hospital beds per 1000 people, or about one million beds—around 65% of which are full at any given time for reasons unrelated to coronavirus, leaving 330,000 beds available. With a projected 10% of coronavirus cases requiring hospitalization lasting weeks, this means our hospitals will be at capacity by May 8th.

The increasing demand on our healthcare system will have a ripple effect that could make things even worse.

“As healthcare system becomes increasingly burdened, Rx shortages, etc, people w/ chronic conditions that are normally well-managed may find themselves slipping into severe states of medical distress requiring intensive care & hospitalization,” Specht writes.

There’s also the issue of running out of supplies for medical staff to safely treat patients without becoming infected themselves.

The government says there’s a stockpile of 12 million N95 masks and 30 million surgical masks — which, as Specht points out, are not ideal but they’re better than no masks at all.

If only 6 million of the 18 million healthcare workers in the U.S. are working on any given day (and it’s likely to be more), it would only take two days for them to use up the entire supply of N95 masks in the country if they were only given one a day.

And with the entire world facing the same crisis, we’re limited on how quickly we can get more.

It’s easy to see how the overcrowded system and a shortage of masks will lead to healthcare workers getting sick. And then there will be even fewer professionals to take care of sick people, when we likely already won’t have enough.

Specht says her warning isn’t intended to cause panic, but to help people become prepared for what is likely to come.

Her timeline fits with what experts have been telling us.

It’s enough to make anyone want to stay home.

Share this article
*First Published: March 13, 2020, 6:22 am