This continues from:
- 20A.EU1, The Second COVID Wave
- COVID Second Wave; Of Hares and Foxes; Primer for Policy Makers, Part 5
and earlier posts. Since most readers are occupied with politics, this piece is sketchier than I had planned. It has an advantage: It’s easy to pass on. It is so simplified, it could figure in mainstream media.
We’ve seen that a virus doesn’t have brains, but it acts as though it does. Most viruses mutate constantly, with random results and no particular direction, unless a mutation confers a survival advantage. Here we consider why a virus might “choose” to be patient, or impatient, and the advantages of each.
- Patient virus. When people to infect are scarce, or hard to infect because they wear masks, a virus wants its host (infected person) to be walking around as long as possible, giving it the best chance of infecting more people. This means the virus can’t make the host too sick, or the host will die before Thanksgiving dinner.
- Impatient virus. If hosts are plentiful and unprotected by masks or distancing, it’s in the interest of the virus to infect as many people as quickly possible. This requires quick production of as many new virus particles as possible, which requires severe infection. The host (sick person) could die, but the virus doesn’t care. This has all the advantages of torching a restaurant to collect the insurance.
Which strategy works best influences evolution of a virus to a less or more virulent form:
- If people are careful and vigilant, the tendency is a shift towards less virulence, milder disease.
- If people are unguarded, as was the case in army camps in the 1918 flu epidemic, the tendency is a shift towards greater virulence, more severe diseases.
Which strategy works best for COVID-19 is determined by social distancing, and mask wearing. It’s up to us.
We’re finding out that many adult Americans think like children. This was written for a child. It’s more transparent than adherent to the AP Style Manual, or the stilted style of academe. It loses nothing, except the pretense of sophistication, of models that can’t deliver.
Try it out on friends. Maybe you can teach them something.