If everyone has COVID, why don’t I know anyone with COVID?
Short answer: you’re probably white, and you probably do.
A quick check on the numbers: using Denver as an example, the 7 day average of new daily cases is 697.1 (based on data from 11/20 -- always look back a few days as more recent information is typically unstable due to reporting delays). There are more than 10,000 people in Denver right now with COVID, and since the start of the pandemic at least 5% of Denver’s population has had COVID -- and that’s a very conservative estimate.
That’s a lot of people. You don’t know any of them? We actually hear this a lot; and there are two extreme perspectives here. One, as a doctor, seeing overwhelming numbers of severely ill cases, including among young and otherwise healthy. And another, from people in a community that hasn’t been hit hard. The “true” perspective would likely, as usual, lie in between.
It’s possible, and perhaps likely, that if you don’t know someone who has COVID … you actually do. The person you may know with COVID may not be aware (asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic), or there could be people with whom you haven’t had contact, and they have a mild illness. So perhaps the more accurate truth is that you don’t know anyone who has had _severe_ COVID. Think for a moment, however, about a random stranger who is on a ventilator right now. Where did their COVID infection come from? Could it have been an asymptomatic case in your circle?
There’s also the idea that some people aren’t seeing COVID because so many cases are in closed facilities -- prisons and nursing homes, for examples. It’s true those facilities are hit hard. But those numbers are not driving the increases we see. Denver is a great example, and take a peek back at the figures summarized above. Right now less than 5% are attributable to congregate settings.
It’s also possible, of course, that you really don’t know anyone who has had COVID. Did you know anyone killed in a motor vehicle accident? A leading cause of death. Do you know anyone who voted for Trump? 42% of people in Colorado did. Maybe now you’re thinking, “That’s the political bubble I live in … so am I in a COVID-safe bubble too?” You could be. With the racial / ethnic / socioeconomic disparity and unfairness we’ve seen in COVID impact, if you run with a white / wealthier group, it is possible you’ve been relatively protected. You can actually see this in COVID maps of Denver (and again Denver is an illustrative example here -- this issue presents itself across the U.S.): inside the “inverted L” there’s less COVID burden. First, that is likely to change as COVID becomes more widespread. Second, the basic unfairness of the situation points towards shifting the mindset of people who don’t know someone with COVID. If the communities outside the “inverted L,” primarily communities of color and reflecting trends across the U.S., are being devastated while your community is above the fray at the moment -- acknowledge that burden and that you know people with COVID, even if two degrees removed.
Final note for the moment: are you looking for the silver lining? “I’m a 24 year old white woman … seems to be about as low risk as an adult can get.” COVID is a scary disease right now, even for you. More to come in future posts, where we’ll talk about polio and russian roulette.
P.S. Check out this exposure notification system based on your phone, and consider signing up. We did. https://www.addyourphone.com/