I think Bill Gates is probably an OK guy. It also must be fun to be insanely rich and be able to dream Utopian thoughts. But as far having as any particular insights into Covid-19, he’s as clueless as the rest of us and proved it quite nicely today.
Gates published The first modern pandemic: Pandemic I on his blog today. Let’s stop to reflect that Bill Gates could send an email to virtually any person on the planet and get a reply. If he wanted to speak with President Trump, he could no doubt make that happen. There isn’t anyone in the world who is outside his reach. And yet his knowledge of pandemics isn’t any better than yours or mine.
This should give you pause.
As I’ve noted before, Bill Gates is not a creator of things but rather a combiner of ideas in potentially clever ways so it shouldn’t be any surprise that he didn’t create anything new in this blog post but rather described the current consensus thinking.
The first consensus thinking is evident from the title; this is something new that’s never happened before. And, of course, that’s not true. Bill Gates is trying to make the point that our modern society is so far advanced from any other time in history that we can ignore those prior events pretty much in their entirety.
There’s also an arrogance that we can know everything — if we just try hard enough.
The situation changes every day, there is a lot of information available—much of it contradictory—and it can be hard to make sense of all the proposals and ideas you may hear about. It can also sound like we have all the scientific advances needed to re-open the economy, but in fact we do not.
Having contradictory information is true today and it’s going to be true a year from now. We may have more information or we may be arguing over the same stuff or new stuff to argue over might pop up. Regardless, let’s see what insights Bill Gates has for us.
Things we need to learn:
- Is the disease seasonal or weather dependent? “Because we see the novel coronavirus spreading in Australia and other places in the Southern hemisphere, where the seasons are the opposite of ours, we already know the virus is not as seasonal as influenza is.” Well, Mr. Gates, that didn’t age well.
Half-life of SARS-CoV-2 in saliva droplets:
Virus does not last long in high temperature, humidity & sunlight. pic.twitter.com/etTru48iTE
— Ryan Maue (@RyanMaue) April 23, 2020
- How many people who never get symptoms have enough of the virus to infect others? What about people who are recovered and have some residual virus—how infectious are they? “Computer models show that if there are a lot of people who are asymptomatic but infectious, it is much harder to open up without a resurgence in cases.” WELL, DUH! However, I hate to tell you this, Mr. Gates, but people are going to get sick from asymptomatic people and we can’t just call into existence a solution. It may well be the seasonal flu is exactly the same which might be why people get the flu without knowingly being in contact with a sick person.
- Why do young people have a lower risk of becoming seriously ill when they get infected? “Understanding the dynamics here will help us weigh the risks of opening schools.” This isn’t a data thing as much as it’s a gut thing since there will always be a risk just as there is in the filthy little munchkins spreading all sorts of stuff around.
- What symptoms indicate you should get tested? I’m pretty sure we have that figured out although something may pop up like the level of oxygen in the blood might be a better early indicator.
- Which activities cause the most risk of infection? “People ask me questions about avoiding prepared food or door knobs or public toilets so they can minimize their risk.” [Note 1] I think we already know that good hygiene is always a good idea and not letting people sneeze on you is pretty wise as well.
- Who is most susceptible to the disease? Again, I think we know that although we’ll get more clarity as we go along. In any instance, we know that Boomers probably need to take special care.
I want to come back to the main point which is that here is one of the richest and most powerful man in the world and he doesn’t know any more than what you can hear at any Presidential Briefing!
Moving right along, what does Mr. Gates believe we should do? That would be find treatments, vaccines and then do more testing and contact tracing. You can read what he has to say but it’s all common knowledge to anyone who has been paying attention.
There are no easy answers to these questions. Ultimately, leaders at the national, state, and local levels will need to make trade-offs based on the risks and benefits of opening various parts of the economy. In the United States it will be tricky if one state opens up too fast and starts to see lots of infections. Should other states try to stop people moving across state boundaries?
“It will be tricky.”
There is one other factor that is hard to account for: human nature. Some people will be naturally reluctant to go out even once the government says it is okay. Others will take the opposite view—they will assume that the government is being overly cautious and start bucking the rules. Leaders will need to think carefully about how to strike the right balance here.
Human nature will be driven by the same thing that it’s always driven by — herd behavior. Once people are out and about, the rest will follow. It’s the same thing that happens when it rains. As soon as the ones ready to take on the elements come out, the rest of the herd will follow. I don’t think government has to do anything.
The document itself is a pretty good primer with a bit of technospeak thrown in to make it seem like this is all hard. For someone like Dr. Fauci or Bill Gates, it IS HARD because the number of variables is beyond comprehension. Which is why the only right answer is to get started on opening up the country and make adjustments as we have to. There is no other way.
[NOTE 1: Also see “things that have never happened.”]