Coronavirus update

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.

This article about the coronavirus epidemic (the virus is now officially dubbed Covid-19) focuses initially on how the Chinese are even quarantining bank notes in their effort to stem the disease’s spread.

I instead found this quote farther down the page much more significant:

More than 1,380 people with the virus are now confirmed to have died and more than 64,400 have been infected in at least 28 countries and regions.

The death rate of the disease, even as it has grown, remains about 2%. While tragic, this number suggests this hardly has the makings so far of a worldwide catastrophe. If anything, it appears to be about as deadly as the flu, which isn’t something to take lightly but also does not warrant any need for panic or desperation. The flu in the 2017-2018 season in the U.S. infected an estimated 45 million, killing about 61,000, a far lower death rate but impacting far more people. Like the flu, Covid-19 appears to be more deadly to older patients.

This epidemic needs to be taken seriously, but it so far does not justify any panic.


Every July, to celebrate the anniversary of the start of Behind the Black in 2010, I hold a month-long fund-raising campaign to make it possible for me to continue my work here for another year.

This year's fund-raising drive however is more significant in that it is also the 10th anniversary of this website's founding. It is hard to believe, but I have been doing this for a full decade, during which I have written more than 22,000 posts, of which more than 1,000 were essays and almost 2,600 were evening pauses.

This year's fund drive is also more important because of the growing intolerance of free speech and dissent in American culture. Increasingly people who don't like what they read are blatantly acting to blackball sites like mine. I have tried to insulate myself from this tyrannical effort by not depending on Google advertising or cross-posts Facebook or Twitter. Though this prevents them from having a hold on me, it also acts to limit my exposure.

Therefore, I hope you will please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.


Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:

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  • brightdarkness

    The problem is the stats are coming from the Chinese government. They’ve lied about everything so far.

  • Cotour

    My mother was a big believer in Lysol and when I was a child would spray it around all the time if someone came to the house and she thought they might be sick.

    I deal with the public everyday and I use Lysol still today when ever someone comes in that sounds stuffy or is coughing, I spray it on my hands and in the air, and I rarely get sick.

    Might Wayne suggest that we increase the air pressure over China with a Lysol cleansing bomb to end this potential pandemic?

  • sippin_bourbon

    China trying to cover up errors and mistakes is what China is gonna do.. They cannot let the State look fallible.

    Worse, tho, and in my opinion, a greater concern in terms of humanity, is North Korea. They were denying any cases existed for a while.

    They are in such poor condition there, I shudder to think the number that could be infected.

  • Brian

    Well North Korea has there own solution. They just executed someone a couple of days ago that got infected because they broke quarantine.

  • hondo

    I do hate relying on data from China – they do play games and are extremely image conscious. Noticed that one of their Chief Medical personnel was recently replaced by another in the Security field – what does that tell you?
    Still, no reason to even come close to panic – I’m waiting on info from other affected Asian countries like South Korea, Japan, n’ Singapore. Cases are few, but their data will be trustworthy – and their response will be first rate.
    China is a strange place on the development scale (1st/2nd n’ 3rd world all rolled into one).
    Unfortunately, we live I in an era of Apocalyptic Porn – take your pick of scenarios.
    It sells and many are drawn to doom and gloom.

  • sippin_bourbon

    China is a strange place on the development scale (1st/2nd n’ 3rd world all rolled into one)

    This is true of all very large countries.

    I live in a large city, and enjoy all the benefits thereof. Very 1st world.

    The other half’s family is in a very rural area.. Having visited there often, I would call it very 2nd world.

    And through all of that I have also seen parts of the US that could be described as 3rd world. I should add, these area are small, not far from the advancements of the 1st world, and no one is condemned to stay there, as they are in other nations. People that are there are generally there by choice.

    In China, those in the 3rd world state are there because their leaders see no reason to change it.

  • John

    My own council I will keep on when to panic.

    Singapore news:

    A 2-3% severity rate is bad as far as fast spreading pandemics go.

    I’ll panic when local cases start being reported in numbers, then it’s time to really get the freak out.

  • Shaun Karry

    Based on the numbers from the Jonson Institute, we’re looking at closer to 17% death rate. Can’t compare deaths vs infection rate. You have to look at deaths vs recovery rate. That’s the real indicator

  • Shaun Karry: Point taken. I note however that the death vs infection rate has so far stayed very constant.

  • Shaun Karry

    The actual numbers are very questionable as has been pointed out in other posts. But, as this virus takes so long to incubate (up to two weeks in some reported cases) the only real way to gauge the death rate is by weighing the number of deaths vs the number of recoveries (as reported). Those numbers themselves are highly questionable. Based on the heat map that the Johnson Institute has provided, you are correct that the number of deaths have tracked with the number of infections (about 2.4%) but we still need to see if that is born out in the end numbers. It’ll be interesting to see how things play out. I speculate that that you may be correct that the number of deaths can be directly correlated with infection rate but remain cautious based on the nature of the data. If China is miss-reporting the data, conclusions can change drastically.

  • Shaun Karry: We are in complete agreement, with the bottom line being “to keep calm and carry on.” This situation calls for rational intelligent education, not panic and the spreading of rumors.

    As much as I do not trust the Chinese, I think their numbers have probably become increasingly accurate with time. And having said that, I would still maintain a healthy skepticism.

  • Steve

    I’m big on personal preparation as I am a volunteer with my local EMA. If you were told tomorrow you had to shelter in place for 2-4 weeks until a pandemic passed, do you have what you need to do so? Food? Meds? Other? No? You might want to lay in some supplies.

  • Lee S

    A largely unreported fact about the epidemic is that it seems to spread faster and be MUCH more deadly to people of Asian decent.
    This has sparked many conspiracy theories in some of the crazier corners of the internet I occasionally visit.
    While I don’t subscribe to any of these, it is interesting that this is only the second disease I’ve heard of which prefers a particular ethnic group, ( the other being sickle cell disease, which affects the afro carabian population, but I believe is genetic rather than a regular contagious disease)

  • Cotour

    A very upset friend sent me this video this morning.

    China, its not just a dream, its a reality.

    A place where you just go, bye, bye.

  • Mike Borgelt

    Look at what the Chinese government is doing, not what they are saying. They are taking a huge economic hit by quarantining and locking down entire regions. If this was just a flu (0.07% death rate in the US) that killed 2% of their population I doubt the Chinese government would care at all.
    I’ve seen up to 24 days as incubation period. I’d say the Chinese government knows something and they aren’t telling.
    Bon chance, mes amis.

  • Ryan Lawson

    I have a hard time buying the 2% figure given how many reports are coming out about hospitals not having enough resources and turning people away. How many got sick, walked to 2 or 3 hospitals within range, kept getting rejected and simply went home to lay in bed until naturally recovering or dying? I work with a PhD chemist who is Chinese, and in the week where quarantines were first implemented he told us to buy masks and other emergency supplies just in case. He does not trust the Chinese government and assumes it is lying about the real severity of the virus.

    If what I have read is true, the death rate is around 2% for those who are accepted into the hospital and get treatment, but is more like 5-10% without getting any treatment. The Chinese government is really only counting those admitted into the hospitals for testing/treatment. The danger is that so many people get sick all at once and it overwhelms the system to the point that we end up realizing closer to a 10% death rate because so many people go untreated.

    I work at a company with 200 people at our site. In the last 4 years we have had two people die, one in a car wreck and one from a heart attack. In the 2% scenario it would be crazy to lose 4 people in one year. Now imagining a 5% scenario and losing 10 people seems really scary. Economically, a lot of projects would grind to a halt from losing a key person and end up taking at least a year or two to recover.

  • wayne

    –the composition of Lysol has changed over the years (introduced in the 1880’s)–current versions primarily have benzalkonium chloride as the active-ingredient –which is a highly effective anti-microbial & surfactant.

    –there are roughly 90 million members of the ‘ruling-commie-elite,’ in the gulag, nightmare, slave-state, known as China. Pandemic entirely aside– I would not lose a whole lot of sleep if these ruling-commie-elite were bathed in 1000 rads of prompt-radiation, and a temporary increase in the local air-pressure, to 6psi.

  • John

    The death rate for a typical flu is 0.1-0.2% depending on age and demographics. Tens of thousands can die because it’s so contagious with millions infected over the entire year.

    So a highly contagious disease that can give 2-3% a life threatening pneumonia would be very disruptive to society, and much worse than an average flu season.

    No reason to panic (yet!), but reason to prepare.

  • Cotour

    “In around 2020 a severe pneumonia-like virus will spread throughout the globe, attacking the lungs and the bronchial tubes and resisting all known treatment. Almost more baffling than the illness itself will be the fact that it will suddenly vanish as quickly as it arrived, attack again ten years later, then disappear completely.”

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