If you’ve not already done so, I would encourage you to stock up on supplies for a potential medical quarantine situation.

I’ve been tracking COVID-19 (the corona virus) since January. I see no reason why the spread of the virus should be much different in the United States than it has been in China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Italy, Iran, Pakistan, and so on.

COVID-19 mortality statistics are all over the place. Unfortunately, we can’t really trust the numbers out of China, but the World Health Organization (WHO) estimate is between 1%-3%. By way of example, this is 10-30x more lethal than this year’s influenza virus, which infected 29 million people in the US and killed around 16,000. (At the same time, this is much less lethal than Ebola, SARS, or MERS.) Many of the people dying from the virus have comorbidity factors (they smoke, they’re immune compromised, they have other lung ailments, etc.), but younger healthy people have died as well. (Interestingly, it appears that children and infants are much less susceptible to the infection—something that is true for the influenza virus as well).

We have no vaccine or specific antiviral treatment yet. The best we can do is wash hands thoroughly (20 second minimum with soap and water), maintain distance from people, and avoid touching your face. Also cover your coughs or sneezes with tissues or the crook of your arm.

The really bad news is that COVID-19 is massively contagious. Scientists use something called R0 (pronounced R-naught) to describe the retransmission rate of a virus. In other words, if COVID-19 has a retransmission rate of 2.5, the average person with it would infect 2.5 more people. There are at least two medical papers now that believe the COVID-19 R0 value to be around 5.7. This is very high.

Worse, the virus can be spread by people who are infected but asymptomatic. In other words, I feel fine right now, but I might be infected and be spreading the virus without even knowing it. (Symptom onset is typically 6-21 days.) Even after a patient is “cleared”—meaning they no longer present symptoms, there is some evidence that they may remain contagious.

I will be surprised if COVID-19 does not ultimately infect over 50% of human beings worldwide. This will put an incredible strain on multiple societal system (medical, economic, etc.). Quarantine—you stay in your house, I’ll stay in mine—is, I think, something that will help, but ultimately what it buys us is time. Time to develop a new vaccine, time figure out how the virus works, etc.

If you not started prepping for quarantine situation, you should start immediately.