If I’m a vector, I could be an infector
Several friends of mine have been discussing what to do with our various upcoming spring vacation travel plans in light of the coronavirus epidemic. Yesterday (March 11), I told them I was going ahead with a beach vacation trip — white sands, lapping waves, snorkelling — leaving in two days. I felt it was worth the slight risk.
This morning, I cancelled my air ticket. What changed my mind?
1. The World Health Orginazation just announced a global pandemic, and Washington D.C. just last night declared a state of emergency. I live on the D.C. border, in Montgomery County Maryland. Locally confirmed cases doubled between last night and this morning to 34. Known cases are most likely just the tip of the iceberg. So as of this morning, there is a good chance of hundreds of local cases undiagnosed in the D.C. area.
2. While I would estimate the risk of contracting the virus is still small for my flight on Saturday, there’s no doubt that it is here, and that Dullas Airport has had at least some infected people stroll through it — not to mention flight attendants and TSA security. There is some risk I could not only catch it by become a vector for it. A vector here is basically a person in motion. So, I have to weigh not only my own personal safety when travelling — I might “feel lucky.” But — should my optimism bias be trusted when as a vector, I could be infecting many others?
3. We are moving into lockdown. D.C. area schools and universities have cancelled classes, NBA just cancelled their season, St. Patrick’s Day parades have been cancelled, the Capitol visitor’s center just closed to the public — and apparently the State Department has told its employees not to travel by plane, even domestically (so a friend who works there tells me). China, and Korea have dramatically reduced their infection rates by curtailing travel and personal contact. If we fail to slow it, we risk overwhelming our health systems — as has happened in Italy. There, patients died who could have been saved because there were not enough ventilators and oxygen tanks to go around. (See this twitter thread from a doctor in Italy, and this NYT article, Flattening the Coronavirus Curve).
4. Although my flight out might be okay this Saturday, we are in an exponential phase of the virus’s spread. Who knows what the situation might be in nine days on my flight home? It might well be that if I have a cough or low fever I could not board the plane. Or the govt. might impose new travel restrictions, or the airlines might cancel flights if planes are empty. So there is a risk I might not get back — and I feel I need to be here, closer to people I love and care about. I realise I would feel anxious every day about whether or not I could get back home.
5. And — what if I did return, but in nine days, I would have an exponentially increased the risk of bringing the virus home with me on the second flight? I can’t accurately assess my risk nine days into the future with so much uncertainty — but it will almost definitely be much greater than the risk today.
In other words, I realized that by traveling, I increase the risk for everyone. If I’m a vector, I could be an infector.
My friend who invited me was understanding about my decision. I feel bad about cancelling on him at the last minute — but relieved.
Now I can go panic buying.
Take care, my Medium friends. Remember we are all in this together. Wash your hands, avoid social contact, and for everyone’s sake, stay home.
(I would like to acknowledge my friend Dr. Gleb Tsipursky for his recent article on assessing risk about the pandemic, which helped me get a better handle on it: https://disasteravoidanceexperts.com/the-one-huge-mistake-everybody-makes-in-covid-19-coronavirus-pandemic-preparation/).