Monday, March 23, 2020

COVID-19: How long?

As everyone settles into this new "routine" of social distancing and semi-quarantine, I think a lot of us are wondering how long this will last. The true answer is complicated by many things, which vary by territory, immunity, politics, etc. But I think we can put some useful boundaries on the timeline.

The numbers below are all based on the United States, but in reality the outer bounds are probably pretty close regardless of where on Earth you live; because we are all in a global community (except for you, North Korea).

Least Time

Say that we ignore COVID-19, live like it does not exist, and let it spread as fast as it can on its own. This means that at some near point in time, everyone will have become exposed/infected, and a while after that everyone (who survives) will become immune. This is the minimum amount of time that COVID-19 will affect us all.

Down to the numbers. To start some calculations, we need several values. These are all averages/estimates.
So given all of that, the reconstruction:
  • on 3/23/2020, there were 504 deaths in the USA
  • given 15 days from infection to death, and 2% death rate, this means there were approximately 25,200 infected persons on 3/8/2020
  • given 6 days to double the number infected, this means that ever person in the USA would be infected by 5/30/2020 (this glosses over a lot of factors, but we're doing quick estimates here)
  • again, given 15 days from infection to death, this means the last fatality could be as soon as 6/14, so middle of June 2020.

Most Time

Now that the whole world is up in arms against this virus, what will it take to wipe it out completely? It would take a massive vaccination. But we do not yet have a vaccine.

Question) What are the scientists saying is a reasonable time to have a COVID-19 vaccine?
Answer) The New Yorker did a story on this; the gist is 12-18 months is the fastest reasonable time it could be done

Now, before just taking this at face value, let's try to probe it for reasonableness. What is the fastest that a vaccine could be made? From the WHO, the fastest vaccine development is about five months.

Given that, if we dump infinite money and resources into this, I don't believe we will see a useful quantity of a COVID-19 vaccine in less than 12 months.

But now we are estimating the farthest likely timeline. So say everything goes wrong, maybe this takes 24 months, putting it out to March 2022.


Prepare yourself, mentally and physically, to be affected by this pandemic for months. Maybe three months, but more likely six months, or twelve months, or even longer.

But do not despair. In two years, this will be behind us all, one way or another.


  1. Update based on data as of now (4/8/2020) - death rate closer to 3%. Timeline now just a few days earlier than previously predicted. And the down side, this means worst case in US is around 9 million instead of 6 million.

  2. On the plus side, there are now some very positive results to treatment using plasma from recovered patients

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