Some Thoughts on Coronaviruses and Seatbelts

Hope is not a strategy.

— James Cameron

A prescient article titled “Body Count” by Epsilon Theory/Ben Hunt (@epsilontheory) was recently sent to me by one of my smartest and most connected friends. 

It paints a spooky picture of the Chinese reports of what has been informally referred to as “Wuhan coronavirus.” Per the WHO this week, the official virus name is SARS-CoV-2, and the disease it causes is COVID-19, much like HIV causes AIDS. Here is one portion from this essay (edited for length), and I suggest reading the entire piece:

From a narrative perspective, China is fighting this war against nCov2019 exactly like the US fought its war against North Vietnam. … They convince themselves that the people can’t handle the truth, particularly if the truth ain’t such good news. They convince themselves that they can buy enough time to win the real-world war by designing and employing a carefully constructed “communication strategy” to win the narrative-world war. That strategy proved to be a social and political disaster for the United States, as the cartoon tail (gotta get more NV casualties for Cronkite to report) ended up wagging the policy dog (send out more counterproductive search-and-destroy missions). I think exactly the same thing is happening in China. And I think the social and political repercussions will be exactly as disastrous.

Read the whole article here.

Next, here’s some personal background that might be relevant: during previous international scares involving avian flu, Ebola, SARS, etc., I did not panic nor move into a bunker. Once I felt I understood the data related to each, I more or less went about my life as usual.

I am not panicking this time, either. That said, I am curtailing unnecessary travel and group interactions for the next 2–3 weeks to see how things shake out, particularly given the asymptomatic “incubation period” of up to 14 days. 

Might that be an overreaction? Might I be misinformed? Totally. But then again, how many head-on car accidents have I had? Zero. I nonetheless put on my seatbelt every time that I drive, and we have great data on traffic fatalities. Do you have a fire extinguisher in your kitchen? Would you accept $100 to get rid of it? $1,000? I wouldn’t. As unlikely as a kitchen fire may be, the extreme known consequences of an out-of-control fire easily justify a fire extinguisher, even if it gathers dust forever. It’s cheap disaster insurance, just like having emergency stores of water in the garage.

Even though some folks think of me as a “risk-taker,” I self-identify much more as a “risk-mitigator.” Whether in the context of my 100+ startup investments, scientific research I support, or otherwise, I think about risk a whole lot. This includes misperception of risk, cognitive biases, and so on. I also have excellent access to reputable experts.

I dislike the unknowns of SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19, no treatment has yet proven effective, and—like putting on a seatbelt—it’s easy for me to mitigate a lot of downside risk until more data paint a clearer picture. Videos like this (hat tip to Naval Ravikant) lead me to think that metaphorically wearing an eight-point harness for 2–3 weeks isn’t the worst idea. As of Feb 13, 2020, the comparisons I’ve seen to influenza aren’t totally compelling for at least one of the following reasons: 1) the numbers cited are often simply incorrect, 2) they assume we have equally longitudinal/reliable data for both, 3) they assume recovery and treatment are equally known for both. From The New York Times today:

There remains deep uncertainty about the new coronavirus’ mortality rate, with the high-end estimate that it is up to 20 times that of the flu, but some estimates go as low as 0.16 percent for those affected outside of China’s overwhelmed Hubei province. About on par with the flu.

We simply do not know at this point, and “knowing” is often a spectrum of probabilities based on data.

This post is not intended to spread panic; it’s intended to look at risk-assessment and decision-making when you are making a 100-mile journey into terra incognita and can only see 10 feet in front of you with a flashlight. In cases like this, I find it better to prepare and not need, than to need and not have prepared… especially when some precautions are so simple and so cheap.

I am constantly looking for such “seatbelts” in many areas of my life. Dead-simple ways to cap some or all of the downside risk.

If COVID-19 turns out to be a false alarm, or if it doesn’t turn into a full-blown catastrophe in the US, many people who ignored the news and didn’t change their routines will no doubt say, “I told you so.”

But let’s remember: I don’t have a strong opinion about what COVID-19 is or isn’t. That’s the whole point.

I’m not saying COVID-19 is a disaster, and I’m not saying it’s trivial. We don’t have enough information right now to conclude either.

I’ve also been called an “alarmist” by a few folks this week.

But am I?

Am I an alarmist for wearing a seatbelt? For having fire extinguishers? Few would say so. And those are games of near-complete information. Common influenza would also fall close by.

If those are similar to chess, our current situation is more like backgammon. Plenty of moves are still up to Lady Fortune (actual lethality profile, successful containment, etc.).

I would argue that my decision-making framework related to SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19—especially given the unknowns—is sound at the time of this writing. This is true regardless of eventual outcome. And anyone who says they’re 100% certain of outcomes — right now — is either delusional or lying. At best, they are gambling with a blindfold on, not betting intelligently.

For more on all of this, I suggest reading Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts by poker champion Annie Duke.

Last, you know what is much scarier to me than COVID-19?

When people vehemently “know” things that they simply cannot know.

And scarier still?

When otherwise smart people veto their structured thinking because they have inconveniences or incentives (money, work, business travel, etc.) that lead them to search for disconfirming evidence. 

That’s when really big problems become inevitable.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

Leave a Reply

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration.)

99 Replies to “Some Thoughts on Coronaviruses and Seatbelts”

  1. Everybody keeps telling me I’m overreacting to the Corona virus (though, in fact, I’m not really doing much of anything about it), but I agree with your thinking: there are still a number of unknowns. Lurking amid the unknowns are possibilities that cause a great deal of disruption much closer to home than China. So curtailing unnecessary travel, for instance, seems like a sensible precaution that doesn’t inflict much of a cost. It does make me wonder about a conference I need to attend in SF at the end of the month. For business development, I really need to be there, so I’m likely to take the risk, but I’m definitely going to be watching the situation closely. Thanks for sharing your thinking on this.

  2. It’s disappointing to see you refer to the current outbreak of a coronavirus as the “wuhan” coronavirus after the WHO delibrately selected a new name in order to prevent the outbreak being linked to any one country or culture.

    As someone with such a big reach intetnationally I’d have expected you to think more carefully about how you choose to name things and the impact that your chosen name can have on others.

    1. I did think very carefully about the wording and debated this. Many people still don’t associate the new name with this coronavirus. If this is to be an effective PSA, I needed to make it clear that the previously named and the currently named are one and the same. Simple as that. I’ve seen renaming confusion in many places before, and this is the last place we need more confusion.

      1. I’m glad to see your steadfastness on this point. The WHO seems unduly concerned with naming this disease and ensuring the health of financial markets rather than in safeguarding the health of the globe’s population. My heart goes out to those in lockdown in Wuhan and elsewhere in China. For their sake, and for everyone else’s, I think we need to be primarily concerned with safety.

        With any luck, the “this is just a mild flu” crowd will be right and all this will all seem like a complete overreaction in a month from now. But taking it seriously in these early phases might also save tens of thousands of lives. I’d rather be considered insensitive than put people’s safety at risk. I’m calling it COVID-19, and everyone keeps saying “what?”

    2. B, I think that nomenclature deckchair needs to be moved another 1/32 of an inch farther to the left.

      The human and economic risks posed by this virus are high; Tim’s reasoning is sound.
      I would add that mitigating one’s personal risk helps reduce systemic risk.

    3. I think the safety of the rest of the world should be the primary concern over hurting Wuhan’s feelings. They do need to own up this one, unfortunately.

    4. That’s what you took away from the article? The accurate descriptor offends your sense of fairness, and you feel justified in criticizing the author? Wow! Do you have an opinion on the virus itself? I apologize if calling it a “virus”is somehow defamatory.

    5. You must be from Sweden or Sån Fransisco?
      Tim is talking about a virus, you are angry he did not write it so it fit your teste.
      I am from Sweden and I am ashamed off it.

  3. Thanks for the info and the thoughts Tim. I’m in the same boat, and have been revisiting the concept of what I would need to do to live in my house for a month or more with my family and be ok, especially given that I have an infant and a toddler – two little gems with weakened immune systems who need to be looked out for. If it doesn’t hit the fan, you’re paranoid – if it does, you’re prepared. Slap whatever title you want on it – my job is to keep my family alive and prudence is a large part of that.

    1. Spot on. I tell my wife the same thing all the time. Win win for her…she gets to make jokes at my expense for taking some basic precautions and if it does end up really bad, she’s got me as a safety net. Oh well, part of the job 🙂

  4. We will worry less, author person, what people think about us, when we know damn well they more often simply don’t think about us and our ideas, our needs, wants, desires. They don’t. Refer not about “lambast” LOL continue to move forward unfettered by those annoyed by you and everything else. Try it now, from this present second forward. You WILL like it.

  5. Thanks for posting this!

    If more influencers across all niches would follow suit and explain this in such a calm and rational way, it would increase the success rate of global containment efforts tremendously.

    1. I did read that NYT piece. The key component is how incomplete our current information is related to COVID-19. They wrote: “Another trigger is a threat that is not fully understood. The less known it is, the more people may fear it, and overestimate its threat.” That might be a psychological trigger, but ‘not fully understanding’ something is also a clear risk factor. Imagine flying a plane with clear visibility versus flying in unclear visibility when instrumentation fails. They are simply not the same. I think the comparisons to common flu are flawed due to this information (and fatality) disparity, among other things. Much of what happens in the next few weeks is dependent on how successful containment is, which we cannot predict. I’m not saying I’m right. I am saying that many people are acting as if they have conclusive information, which they do not.

      Too ma

    2. hi, Tim,

      As a Chinese citizen living abroad, I am deeply concerned about the current situation of coronavirus and eager to read official news, updates, opinions to help understand the situation, at the same time trying not to be biased.To be honest, I was feeling skeptical about the official published data and I read the article you recommended ” bodycount” . However, as a scientific researcher myself, I did the calculation according to your well-connected friend’s “cartoonish model”. Apparently, his comparison of the prediction vs announced data only showed between Feb 5th till Feb 10. It looks very much a match. However, if following his model, starting from Feb 11th till today Feb 18th, the comparison is far off. I don’t think the Chinese government read his article (“prediction”) and manually changed the data. Then he concluded that China’s reaction towards the situation is comparable with the “body counts in Vietnam war”. I think it’s very unfair by having only 5 data points as evidence for such accusation. And just selection of data matching the prediction (attention: with 5 data points) is scientifically wrong and very weak, except being eye-catchy. In addition, I want to say, in statistics, for prediction models, human intervention is always a factor should be considered for epidemic spreading model. and How that factor has been selected definitely make a hugh impact on the model prediction. and it’s far more complicated than his “cartoonish model”. Publishing such non-validated result is irresponsible.

  6. Considering we have a 97.8% chance (yes, only 2.2% of infected have died according to the news) of surviving the coronavirus, I’ll take my chances. I’ve never gotten the flu vaccine, and never will. Keep your immune system strong, and you’ll be fine. The flu is the same, if not more deadly.

    1. That’s almost the exact same percentage (~2.35%) of US service members who were killed during WWII, but I’ll bet you wouldn’t just “take your chances” there… Also most deaths from the flu are from complications (generally pneumonia) in compromised/at-risk populations, not the flu itself.

    2. you just literally demonstrated what Tim recommended should be avoided… acting like we know everything when in fact we don’t know a whole lot!

    3. For context, that’s 22x as deadly as the flu, which kills about .01% of patients. Not saying you need to freak out, just that the flu comparison is not an especially comforting one.

    4. Currently only about 15% of the patients in China have recovered, so it is too early to predict anything about the survival rate.

  7. Great article and appreciate the book link. I would love to hear a more detailed dive into your thought process and framework for risk mitigation. How do you flip your thinking around? You’ve touched on this since 4 hour work week, but a great topic for further exploration.

    1. Interesting piece Tim, I am also a bit worried. Still in doubt about the question how much worrying and taking precautions is healthy 😉 Avoiding groups of people is quite a big sacrifice, but who knows, you could he right.

  8. This was no doubt made in a lab, is a biological weapon, being covered up in China, and they are burning bodies at a rapid rate. Watch some of the videos taken by people there (before then those people are disappeared.) I like the analogies – it’s about limiting the downside risk. Tim, I have always thought you would gravitate more towards the “World citizen” area like Simon Black and Andrew Henderson. Been following since (literally) day 1 of your blog posting – my favorite of all time is: Although, you still have talked about Costa Rica way too much and not Panama, clearly the better choice 🙂

  9. The personal health risk from coronavirus is relatively low. But the potential for this virus to cause economic chaos and a stock market crash is high. Most of the financial pundits admit ignorance about virology and are basing their projections on SARS in 2003, which was an entirely different disease arriving in the wake of the dot-com crash, not when the market was at all-time highs as is the case in 2020. Today, key Chinese factories are crippled and the ripples will be felt over the supply chain in coming months as shortages develop in electronics, pharmaceuticals, and manufactured goods. The latest data suggest the virus has a greater R0 (“likely to be between 4.7 and 6.6.”) and the symptom-free incubation period may be 24 days. Coronavirus has just injected a massive element of risk into an already top-heavy financial system. (Aside: a great book on measuring financial risk realistically is Benoit Mandelbrot’s The (Mis)Behavior of Markets.) I wrote a long blog analyzing the potential risk of the coronavirus as a “black swan” and how to mitigate it on Seeking Alpha, but I don’t want to overload this post.

    1. Thanks very much for the thoughtful comment, Walt. Totally agreed on the possible economic impact. Facts aside, fear alone can do an incredible amount of damage.

      1. Just got back from Tokyo. Every museum and public employee was wearing a mask, as well as most of the counter people in every store I visited. Alcohol-based hand sprays were also abundant. A little paranoia is a good thing.

  10. In early January, I told a friend that we have greater concerns than global warming. Particularly the declining world health and immune resistance due to obesity (and related Type 2 Diabetes) leading to overburdened health care systems and Alzheimer’s. With this, I said there is a much higher risk if something like the 1918 Spanish flu came now. And then a week later, COVID-19!

  11. Life is a long game; taking a step back on occasion to check our routines and remind ourselves what is truly important and take the appropriate action is critical, thanks for the reminder. Another helpful article for the tech-minded (myself included) leveraging the experience of growth metrics to clarify concerns surrounding SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19

  12. It sure is a tricky one to call.
    I’m not planning any travel anytime soon, and don’t really hang out in crowds or on public transport, so I should be very near the bottom of those at risk of contracting it.
    Anyhow, I haven’t so much as sneezed for the last two years (except for dust up my sniffer) so I’m not unduly concerned about the risk to my personal health.

    The way I’m tending to view it is, W.H.O. says, in 2017, in China, over 63 thousand people died in road traffic accidents, more than 200 thousand in vehicle collisions (being struck by another vehicle, elderly, young, push bikers, motorcyclists, and so on) Except there are so many deaths it’s almost impossible to record them all.

    That’s just in China alone. That epidemic, pandemic, whatever you wanna call it, is already here, and showing no signs of going away.

    Seatbelt or no seatbelt, slowing down quickly hurts, or worse, but I doubt many people stop to think of those figures when they jump in car.

    No reason for complacency, I agree, but I feel it gives some perspective to the situation, at least for me.

    I was in Asia at the time of SARS, and MARS, but I must admit, I might hesitate if I was planning a trip right now.

    Anyway, stay safe folks.

  13. Thanks Tim for saying this. I’ve been saying this to my acquantainces for weeks and finally went into self-quarantine last Sunday. Most people can’t be bothered to really think about the mathematics of ergodicity. I feel for the healthcare workers though. They don’t have a choice.

    1. Can you explain more about your decision to self-quarantine? Are you in a location with lots of COVID-19 cases? Have you just come back from somewhere you might have been infected? Do you have symptoms or have family members with symptoms?

      1. It’s a mitigation strategy given the asymettry of risk/reward. Same as what Tim said. Practice social distancing until we know more. The long the incubation period (4 weeks in some cases). There is no significant testing being done yet by the CDC (still true 10 days later today) and that may be because people test negative even when they have it (Diamond Princess example of passengers getting repatriated to their countries and later testing positive). Also, some reports are saying that ~500 people are in self quarantine in King County, WA (Seattle). Which means that the virus is no doubt here and given the high transmissibility (R0 estimates are now in the 4-5 range). We just don’t know how bad this is going to be yet, but it certainly looks much worse than Swine Flu and SARS.

  14. I agree with you. Being aware of a situation, even when the specifics aren’t fully known, can guide/shift my behavior. It’s like getting a traffic alert on my GPS. I will take a different route that day, not forever. I was pregnant during the Zika virus outbreaks. I didn’t quit living, but I was just a little more aware of my travel and time outside.

    On a different matter, but similar to wearing seatbelts or keeping a fire extinguisher, what’sthe equivalent for a new idea/mobile app? I have a pretty decent idea, but I recently hit this wall of fear. I’m close to a point where I’ll need to invest my money or seek an investor. It just feels like I don’t have a fire extinguisher and I’m regretably chickening out. Only thing that I’m equally afraid of is having regret from not trying.


  15. Hey Tim — I can respect the concern and valid claims that COVID-19 is sufficiently dangerous to warrant some proactivity in travel, hand washing, etc. That said, the chances of contracting it in the US is nearly nil, and not likely to grow. Estimates of death rates are ~2% but are expected to be much lower as nobody is counting the mild cases. We Americans as a group are much more likely to contract influenza and die right here at home (14,000 so far this season, typically 60K in a year), even with it’s lower mortality rate of ~0.1%. But the flu doesn’t conjure up the boogeyman in the press quite like COVID-19 does.

    Perspective gets lost during these times. I travel in Asia right now with masks on many people (~40% in Japan, ~10% in South Korea) that act as a constant reminder to be vigilant, but also a reminder that people spend too much of their time worried about a near-zero risk of contraction and death.

    Peter Attia wrote a well thought out and rational post recently on keeping perspective when dealing with risks, using automobile deaths as an example of a real threat worth taking serious. I’d love to hear Peter’s perspective on the COVID-19 virus — perhaps you can coax him into chiming in here or do his own write-up.

    Peter’s post:

    1. I’ve been in a lot of contact with Peter and would also love to hear/read him to discuss this on his podcast or blog.

  16. Tim, would love to see Nassim Taleb on the podcast at some point (perhaps you’ve asked and he’s declined?).

    One point that he’s made repeatedly, and coronavirus is teaching us, is the naive-empiricism of comparing a viral outbreak to falls from a ladder, deaths from car accidents, etc. where multiplicative, complex dynamics are and are not present (somewhat in the car accidents case).

    Hope you can have him on at some point.


  17. I completely agree with your seatbelt analogy and urge for people to stay vigilant. But your comments and quotations on China are really off. It seems to me that you have no grasp of how the Chinese government or the society works. Disappointing that even someone as well travelled and well read like you is willing to make such inaccurate observations. For background information: I have been in Nanjing and Shanghai since this epidemic started. And I am currently an online volunteer that’s helping with getting resources to Wuhan. The first mistake is talking about the Chinese government as if it were a single all-knowing entity. It is not. The local government is an entirely different story from the central government. In this case, the local government made the initial decision to reprimand Dr. Li Wenliang and not report to the central CDC. Once things got out of control and caught the attention of the central government, a case was made and now there is a dedicated group from the central government to deal with the disaster. The second mistake is to compare this to the Vietnam War. Things cannot be so different. Vietnam is far away from the U.S. Americans were not talking directly to Vietnamese people. Communication was not like today. Not every single American cared about the Vietnam war. In contrast, Wuhan is right in China, every single Chinese person is affected by the epidemic and therefore every single person cares. I am in multiple WeChat volunteer groups and people are relaying conditions on the ground in real time. the entire country is staying at home and there has never been so many people with so much time scrutinizing the government. The government knows this, which is why it’s treading very carefully. On the day that Dr. Li Wenliang passed, there were hundreds of articles mourning his death and criticizing the government. Yes, many were later deleted, but in a much slower pace and less complete way. By the time it had deleted the 100th article, I had already read 30 of these articles, and so had anybody else who cared. In recent days, the government has done minimal sugarcoating. Instead all we are hearing about from official news outlets is how serious the disaster still is. The decision to switch to clinical diagnosis and to release the number of health workers who have been infected and died are all signs that the government agrees that people need to know more and not less. I am not writing all of this to say the central government is great, it is not. This whole thing might have been prevented if the central government governed better. All of us are furious about this fact. And the government knows. So it’s trying to make up for it, hoping it isn’t too late. What I am trying to say is you cannot write about the Chinese government in such broad strokes without nuance, just like you can’t do that with the U.S. government. It’s not helpful to write about China without understanding the play between the government and its people, the allowance on free speech and people’s willingness to test boundaries. The entire ordeal is multidimensional and dynamic. And writing about it like the NYT, WSJ, WP, and the quote you used only create a really flat image and doesn’t generate any useful discussion about things that actually matter. If you are serious about learning more about China, I recommend you follow Bill Bishop.

    1. Lutetia, thank you! I am an American, but I live in Guangzhou. And as far as I can see, many provinces have taken this quote seriously. Guangdong has had 21 press conferences to keep people informed and the response has been handled well here, it seems. You are correct, China is not a monolith and just because one piece of the government messed up it doesn’t mean all of China has. I’m sorry that this misinformstion continues to happen and I am heartened by people like you working to help!

    2. Thank you for the very thoughtful comment, Lutetia. I totally agree that this is very nuanced. The link to the article was simply to illustrate that when the released data seem too clean, they are often fabricated. As you might have gathered from the bulk of this blog post, 90% of it is a discussion of making decisions when you have incomplete information. It isn’t really a discussion of China, which I recognize as extremely complex and dynamic. I’ve seen the differences between local and national governments first-hand in China, as I lived there for six months around 1996 attending universities, and I’ve traveled throughout the country (including HK and Taiwan) since on multiple visits. This blog post could just as easily have been written when considering whether or not people should leave Houston or New Orleans based on flood predictions. Hope that helps clarify, and thanks again for engaging in the conversation.

  18. I’m not sure I wholly agree with everything you say here, but I do agree some caution can’t hurt as long as we are not creating panic and spreading misinformation (of which I believe you are doing neither). I am and American and I live in Guangzhou. I honestly feel perfectly safe and that the province of Guangdong is doing everything right with their reaction. I have access to local media that isn’t shared widely outside of China and we have the local emergency texts that give information you wouldn’t get. I know that the flu is not a perfect analogy, but it does help to put things into perspective for people who may be panicking about the virus. The WHO and many independent scientists have said that the death rate of 3% is likely high due to selection bias (only severe cases are being documented and reported) I am wearing a mask outside my apartment, as the government has mandated, and am taking steps to keep my hygiene at 💯. But I don’t believe that panic or disruption of travel and/or trade will necessarily make it better and could be harmful We need to have a balanced approach until we do know what we are dealing with.

  19. I agree with the common sense precautions, which we should all be taking during the normal flu season anyway. What is not clear (as yet) is why one would take this action now. Unless you found something that WHO and other groups are not reporting, the mortality rate is about the same as the flu, and also affects the more at-risk populations, like the flu. The unusual part of the Spanish Flu was that it seemed to hit the healthy population as hard as the at-risk population, with some articles claiming it hit healthy people at a higher rate. Reporting was not very rigorous back then, but that points out the need for better information.

    The playing with math article was fun, but numbers can always be extrapolated to prove just about anything (supply side economics, anyone?). The real question is whether or not the tally is correct, sorta correct, or a complete fabrication. And while I listen to both Peter Attia and Cap’n Bone spurs, I make my decisions on how I evaluate the reports. Blind faith is always dangerous, but human nature does fall under the expert myth all the time.

    Now, if it turns out that we are all being lied to about mortality rates and at-risk populations then we are screwed. But so far, I haven’t seen anything that justifies hysteria. But the usual, common sense precautions of hand washing and avoiding crowds of potentially infected populations? Should be doing that anyway.

    1. We are seeing quarantines on a level unlike anything I can recall. Obviously the Chinese government is taking this much, much more seriously than the flu. And they are almost certainly lying about the numbers, so comparing this to the flu based on that data is futile. If you live outside China, sure it isn’t time to panic, but I’d definitely recommend keeping an eye on the situation.

  20. The virus is not contained
    Quarantines will at best slow the spread.
    Symptoms will not identify infected / infectious people for days after infection
    It seems to me that the next questions should be how long will the virus persist and how long before a vaccine is widely available?

  21. Hi Tim,

    Thanks for your article and useful link!
    This website is also a good one to keep an eye on:

    Especially the graphics with the bars that shows how many percentage of new cases for each day. It looks like it’s declining even with the new method for diagnosis. But is that because they are out of tests or maybe they are sending sick people home or that only the very sick people go to the hospitals.

  22. It only takes one bad statistical anomaly for you to catch a disease, get hit by a car, or other disaster. Reducing your association with the disease is a good idea, although many people will call you paranoid, racist, whatever.

    The point of what you’re saying is really, control what you can and don’t think about what you can’t control. As sad as the virus is, most people can do nothing about it except wash their hands.

  23. All I had to do was read the recommendation for care in a clinical setting in this article to realize this is way more serious than the flu I was treated for what they thought was bacterial pneumonia last year and although it turned out to be something else while it was suspected I was kept separate from other patients but the protection for my caregivers was not as stringent as required for coronavirus. I’m lying low for a few weeks to see what happens as well.

  24. I think this is an excellent piece, and one I largely agree with, though my own assessment of risk is somewhat different than yours.

    One of the interesting things we are going to learn out of this involuntary experiment is the effect of air pollution on aggregate health, and the effects of Authoritarian systems on their ability to actually take care of their people — which is far too often gauged as ‘great’, but in reality, isn’t great at all.

    Finally, a tip of the hat to you, Tim — your book caused me to lose 60 lbs., and started me on a larger journey to understand body inflammation. My uninformed “best guess” for safety from things like the Corona virus remain a low-inflammation diet and fresh, clean air!

  25. I have seen a number of people in my life die because they failed to assess their environment objectively and accurately when they embarked on their fateful endeavors. I always try to err on the side of caution. One thing I know for sure is: my safety and survival are ultimately up to me. I’m watching this outbreak with curiosity and trying to leave my judgement of it’s efficacy or lack of on the sideline.

  26. Thanks for the information and your thoughts, Tim. I’d like to know your advice…I’m supposed to attend the RE/MAX convention in Las Vegas next week, which is expected to have attendance of +/-8,000 people from around the world.

    Am I being overly-cautious by having doubts/fears about flying from Florida to Nevada, and staying in a BIG hotel, with guests from around the world, and attending the conference with attendees from around the world?

    In advance, thanks for your thoughts.

  27. Good reasoned perspective, thanks Tim.
    Interesting to note that avoiding spreading a contagion coincides with preserving our time and planetary resources – air travel only when required, work from home if possible.

  28. I appreciate this analysis. Back in the day of the first Gulf War my father was a VP at the international public relations firm Hill & Knowlton. The firm had been hired by “the Citizens for a Free Kuwait to win the PR front in the US. The million dollar fee bought a convincingly staged event by H&K during a key congressional hearing . Very shortly thereafter we went to war… they had their justification laid out in American press. Only Congressman Jimmy Hayes disagreed publicly. The game never ends.. perception at all cost is king.

  29. It was a biological weapon that either got out or was let out, China’s only official lab to handle bioweapons is 200 feet from the supposed epicenter and there are 4 proteins from the hiv virus that could cause it to spread more. All of these weapons are most effective against pre 1 year old babies with no immune system and post 60 with weakend immune systems – exactly the kind of thing you might make to reduce below poverty population that draws down the budget and force young people from the country where dissent is rife into these empty cities where they can be tracked and monitored by state of the art surveliance. They are showing us they can cut off 60 million people at will with just signs of a virus. The US for it’s part is clearly using it for propoganda and economic warfare, which is resetting the balance of power more in our favor.

    1. Hey Tim – Nice job. This is an excellent article on decision making under uncertainty and risk management. Thanks for writing it.

      The seatbelt analogy is the right one. If you can buy a reasonably effective hedge for zero or nearly zero cost, against an completely unacceptable outcome, it’s irrational to not bother hedging.

      Would love to hear more from you on this topic, including other ‘seatbelt’ low-cost hedges you implement elsewhere in life.


  30. My husband has been following this closely since the news broke, and I largely ignored it. After all, we live in a smallish Midwest town and few people travel out of state, much less China. Then, I flew to Hawaii, Las Vegas and New Orleans in the span of 3 weeks, and suddenly I’m learning firsthand that surgical masks are out of stock nationwide. Jokingly I posted a picture I might wear my construction respirator onto the plane! (I didn’t, I didn’t have bio filters or I might have!). But I DID pack non-toxic disinfecting wipes in my purse, thinking I would wipe down armrests, tray tables, my hands, etc. Go Figure, from Chicago to Las Vegas I had to sit next to a Chinese National who cough/sneezed no less than 200 times. I literally wanted to kill him. I took those germ killing wipes (thank god they’re non-toxic, not Lysol, they do kill influenza a, who knows about this one) and covered my mouth and nose and breathed through the wipe the entire flight, while facing as opposite him as possible, rudeness be dammed.
    Seatbelts rule!!

  31. Hi Tim. I was living in South Korea during the last two big viral outbreaks. I was never overly concerned that I would contract either virus. I was diligent with the hand washing, and I avoided eating in restaurants (mainly because many Korean restaurants (at least at that time) washed their dishes in cold water. What these two viral outbreaks did accomplish in South Korea was a vast improvement in overall public hygiene. Public washrooms were cleaned more regularly and toilet paper became readily available. Up until that point a person usually had to carry their own. The same scenario with soap. Thankfully none of my university students or colleagues died as a result of these viral outbreaks, and the improved hygiene practices was a welcome plus.

  32. The fact of the matter is that we must look at this as intellectuals. Would a true intellectual trust a single word from the mouth of any government, let alone the Chinese government, in regards to something so incredibly sensitive that has the potential to topple economies and cause billions of deaths?

    China, can absolutely NOT be trusted. Nor can mainstream science. We have no clear understanding of where it originated, if it was lab created or not, and if so, is it a bio-weapon? Did China create it to “clean up” an undesirable demographic? It’s been shown to be more deadly to asian DNA and as far as I am aware, not a single white, black, or latino has died from this. Is there a reason? Will we ever know the truth? I don’t know. But I can say with a high level of confidence that anyone who is not paying close attention is taking a serious risk.

    The WHO is a joke, and the state itself has proven to be an all-ecompassing propaganda machine. History and common sense, along with endless documented evidence proves that. For these simple facts alone, I err on the side of absolute caution until some these unknown factors and metrics are made more clear – whether through private research or simple observation.

    People can call me reactionary of paranoid, but I had no fear of Ebola or Bird/Swine Flu, or SARS, etc.. This is a whole different ballgame we’re playing and for those who rely upon major media for information, i urge you to begin real research. There are NO solid numbers, NO solid answers, and NO legitimate statistics being released as this time. Yet we do have insiders in the healthcare industry, IN CHINA, painting an extremely grotesque picture of this situation, as something that is 100% uncontrollable.

    Not only have hundred of millions of people been placed under mandatory lockdown, but none of them are able to communicate what’s happening effectively due to the fear and chaos enveloping China. I fear that most people don’t understand what qualifies someone as being a dissident in China, and what the repercussions are.

    Tim, without being an alarmist is 10 steps ahead of the average person, as are many of us, in finding it extremely concerning that NOBODY seems to be able to give a straight answer for what is actually happening there.

    Additionally, incubation periods from 14 to 28 days (nothing concrete), the possibility that it may be airborne/aerosol, and so much more. The fact that all sources are conflicting speaks volumes, and as the data changes by the day it only becomes more confusing.

    If there has ever need cause for concern, this is it. And if the virus itself fizzles out, the bigger concern here is why the lack of public international clarity? And what’s happening with the Chinese population? There are theories I won’t even mention here for the sake of uncertainty but whatever is happening with this virus, you can be certain that there’s a very important reason that real, valid, transparent and useful information is being totally withheld from public view.

  33. “Last, you know what is much scarier to me than COVID-19?”

    ^ As a foreigner currently in China, there is nothing more truer than “When people vehemently “know” things that they simply cannot know.”

  34. Tim, I was hoping for a list of supplements and foods to reduce the risk, or amp up my immune system if I do catch it. Just trying to avoid death over here. I’m a big fan. I can’t say that was my favorite blog post of yours. Looking forward to the next one. Great to read your writing again!

  35. I’ve heard some reports are circulating of a 35 day incubation period. And there are reports out there that some people were quarantined for 14 days but after being released have actually infected others, and 1 reportedly died. Struggle to know what’s true and what’s sensationalized🤔🤷‍♀️🙏

    1. Also hard to know about the people around you, even the person who pumped gas right before you or standing in line beside you at the checkout. 🤪

  36. This can be tested in real time, whether or not norovirus spread is a main vector for this virus. You implement a keycard system for people in crowded and static living settings where there are at least a few known positive cases as well as uninfected people, and screening for the virus among said residents happens sometimes or better. Infected people using (anonymously maybe) a washroom will infect other previously uninfected keycard holders. You can even adjust your testing subjects to test those who share a bathroom with a known infected person.
    I would say the biggest uncertainty regarding assessing response is it isn’t publicly known whether immunity is good, bad, or neutral, among a population.

  37. Your heartless and flippant white privilege is disgusting. If you have little to be concerned about the virus just because you happen to live 8000 miles away from the outbreak, you can at least shut up and stop broadcasting to the world that you care about it as much as you care about seatbelts.

  38. I’ve been listening to Dr. John Campbell on YouTube. He’s an old doctor from the UK just explaining data from case studies and accredited sources and then teaches the relevant medical knowledge about it. He seems rational and credible. I’d recommend that for more info.

  39. Tim, with the greatest of respect, I think the analogy here is wrong. The equivalent of putting your seatbelt on would be washing your hands more – Low cost, sensible risk mitigation. Restricting travel would be more akin to reducing the amount of driving you do – such as not driving in cities with high traffic accident rates or not driving at certain times. Those actions mitigate risk (for something much more dangerous to you in absolute terms than the virus currently is), but there is a cost to them.

    1. Hi. why is no-one saying anything. please lets talk I am scared. this is the only intellectual forum in the us. please lets talk about whats going on. am I the only one who’s watching. are we being censored. talk to me… wasp peeps?

  40. The rhetoric generated in this early phase of COVID-19 is not far apart from that of the early MERS and SARS outbreaks. The unknown tends to make broad speculation the rule rather than the exception and many people react with an overabundance of caution rather than remain passive.

    The analogy to seatbelts and fire extinguishers is somewhat tangential because the nature of vehicular accidents and kitchen fires are more definable than novel viruses. At most, they all share the common lack of a temporal context in relation to when and how, but exist light years apart in pretty much any other regard.

    Like MERS and SARS, COVID-19 is a zoonotic virus, meaning that its surface proteins mutated in such a way that allowed it to make the leap from animal to human. And like the MERS and SARS outbreaks, COVID-19 will likewise dissipate in a similar manner, not yet knowing the extent of its impact on human life worldwide. As more is learned about the virus, the more definable it will become and its limiting factors more revealed.

    What can be said of the article other than it affirms a common human factor in all of us in that we’re inherently afraid of the unknown and far more willing to reach far into complacency regarding the known in a more intimate embrace. The application of a seat belt or fire extinguisher neither rings of fear nor complacency, but mere common sense. Most of us have knowledge of the reasonable range of harm that both a vehicle accident or kitchen fire can produce because it’s within the proximity of use in our daily lives, something that cannot be said of experience with novel viruses ironically capable of the same range of mild to deadly consequences. Yet we fear a disease far more than a car accident or kitchen fire because it is less understood and far more complex in nature. Furthermore, we become especially discomforted when no treatment or cure exists. Thus, the comfort or even complacency we demonstrate in knowing that a seat belt when used can save lives and that a fire extinguisher can in many instances effectively douse a fire.

    To the point, COVID-19 is very much like MERS and SARS and is merely undergoing its evolution until we see evidence that cases are likewise beginning to decline rather than escalate, likely influenced by seasonal factors. From the standpoint of analogy, we now see and treat MERS and SARS much like a seatbelt or fire extinguisher. The same will be true of COVID-19 in due time.

    Personally, I’m more driven to uncertainty by the capacity in some people than I am in the quirks of nature that arise from time to time, for I can at least accept risk in knowing that nature’s harm is unintentional.

  41. Have you thought about turning this into a podcast? I am just coming up to speed here and I think sharing this more broadly might save lives.

  42. Thank you for your pleasantly logical evaluation of this situation – I have sent it to family members to emphasise that preparation is prudent not alarmist. And since your writing of this blog, events have moved on very quickly, especially in Europe. It seems a shame to me that while I believe I’m just being sensible and forearmed etc, I am ridiculed for not adopting their flippant ‘oh don’t be silly it’s just a cold’ attitude, apparently I’m not manning up and denying adequately the potential of imminent death (I have pretty bad asthma) and I need to justify any type of precaution or evasion (over and over). Ridiculous British inability to be rude or rudely honest or admit there’s anything wrong, ever. There is a much more eloquent phrase for this but it escapes me. Whatever it is, it’s seriously annoying!

  43. I agree with your 100% view of lying. But professional people Governments and so are also partly gambling with a blindfold on. Reaction time was critical and the doorway passed before action was taken The reason why I state this is I have 25 years proven record as this example of info sent/published to governments and recently PM Boris Johnson shows.

    Containment? Politicians have been constantly caught out lying. With we couldn’t have imagined followed by endless not true excuses. It seems they’re more concerned about the financial hit than saving lives.
    But the scary thing is that documented fact don’t lie. Early in December, I sent PM Boris a clear warning of a virus coming and the consequences. At the time the Chinese Gov. hadn’t told the world about the outbreak. One other fact I had stated was. When the news of the Chinese doctor who died hit the news, I stated then he had caught been exposed to the virus more than once. He was seemingly on the mend and took unwell again.

    This virus is good at hiding and can stay dormant. Climate doesn’t matter as hot counties have infected people.
    Sometimes there is more to life than you think. Stay safe boost your immune system as airborne viruses stick to everything. Hence the reason why medical staff are covered from head to foot.

  44. Tim is a sell out being paid by the Fire lobby. He scare mongers and profits from fire extinguishers sales (which I’m sure he sells on the side). How dare you Tim! I will never… ever buy in to fire extinguishers in my house. All because of you. Shameful!

    Have a good day!

  45. People have this uncanny habit of believing that nothing ill will befall them, yet unfortunate things happen to unsuspecting people. It is wiser to be prepared for the worst circumstances.

  46. Hey Tim,

    Good article in which I am mostly in agreement. I am going to preface my response with some basic facts about me. I don’t want people to think that I am an ostrich.
    I am 68 years old (or young). I am a Republican and I do not want a liberal leadership. That being said I do not support Trump. He is a narcissistic, lying SOB that is an embarrassment to our country and the world. No, I don’t think that climate change is a hoax. Ok, I have some issues to deal with.

    We have to treat coronavirus as a beefed up flu, not a damn death sentence for our country. Take precautions but live your life. All of these events that are being cancelled, travel cancellations, restaurant cancellations and others are cancelling our lives. This has created an economic downturn that may kick our butts long after the coronavirus disappears. This “virus” is more deadly to the elderly and those in poor health. Yes, it is more deadly to me. But to see you “youngsters” cowering in a cave is beyond my comprehension.

    Like a fart, this too will pass. The fears were huge after “911” but we moved on. The fears of the coronavirus are minuscule compare to that. Get out of the house and live. If you get sick, deal with it. You have a 99.99% chance that you won’t get coronavirus.


    1. Wow! Thanks Tim for being you. I am more scared than ever. Obviously the virus is deadly dangerous, but ignorant people are way more dangerous. I am truly afraid for America, and the rest of the world. The panic buying of guns and ammunition in the US over the past few days was to be predicted, yet none the less a shocking reality. Whoever mentioned John Campbell way back when, was way ahead of the game. Thank You. Hopefully we can build a new world full of kind and loving people that prefer to help each other then hurt. Stay safe and Peace out as we head into a new world.

  47. I think it’s interesting that you are almost apologetic about the potential of overreacting or perception of overreacting by social distancing for the next few weeks IMO this should be the bare minimum response as a rational person. Appreciate the blog, and hopefully you can nudge the last bastion of naysayers in the right direction.

  48. Great read. The panic button gets hit whenever there are uncertainties. The human immunity system doesn’t know how to cope with this novel virus and there’s no vaccine yet. The financial impact, triggered by panic, may last much longer than the outbreak. You’re right about looking at data before jumping to conclusions.

  49. Tim, I thought of you the other day when I remembered your 4 Hr Workweek book. You always had great suggestions for what to do opposite of every body else. So do you have suggestions during coronavirus lockdown? I have some friends who are traveling in AZ desert now for instant, in an RV. Not like I am an RV person but thats a cool idea. I wanted to go to Hawaii, thought it would be dirt cheap, turns out, all closed. That’s when I wondered, what would Tim do and now I saw this… that’s not Ferris I remember 🙂

    1. ps, does not need to be travel. I am looking for any other out of the box ideas or projects to take advantage of this time. Though travel related ideas would be cool too.

  50. Hi Tim and “The Tim Team”
    I didn’t know where to put it so I’ll just leave it here.

    Once You were wondering if COVID leaves any scars on lung tissue or other organs.
    Recently I spoke to my friend who studied pharmacy with me and after finishing this studies started medicine with radiology speciality.

    I asked him about the scars; he said that almost every infection leaves its trace but in case of covid patients he DIDN’T SEE ANYTHING SPECIAL. He said that You can’t mistake covid lung inflammation with any other; the picture is so clear to the person looking at it. He is doing descriptions of patients after the illness is gone so he knows what he’s talking about.

    Thanks for all Your work.
    Greetings from Poland.

  51. If I asked a classroom of 1st graders to debate how to best entice Santa into their homes, the smartest kids would present brilliant arguments for offering cookies, candles and letters. There might be one child that whispers “Santa isn’t real” and he would be ridiculed.

    Dr. Andrew Kaufman is saying this “virus” isn’t real. Total morbidity may be well be up, possibly because of an increase in environmental and emotional stress. A “virus” as we know it may be the excretions of a toxic cell. Our germ-theory model may be akin to blaming fireman for housefires because they are always present when the flames engulf a home. They aren’t the cause, they are simply cleaning up the mess.

    Industry employs the invisible Bogeyman narrative (viruses, communism, WMDs) because it allows them to further consolidate power over its citizen base and profit on the ensuing hunt for the invisible enemy.

    Kaufman might make for a great interview!