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COVID-19's Exponential Growth

I'm a pessimist. I always have been, and I probably always will be. When I started saying in early March that the coronavirus would probably be one of the deadlier viruses in history, Facebook friends accused me of promoting hysteria, of rooting for the virus, of wanting to hurt the president. Just for the record, my warnings were motivated by none of those. I was motivated because I had done the math. But the concept of exponentiation is hard to get across in text. Sometimes it takes a picture to convey what words are unable to.

Graph of deaths per week by various causes

The graph above is from an article at The New Atlantis, showing the exponential growth of deaths from COVID-19 in the United States.  Exponential growth doesn't look serious in the early stages. Doubling from 10 to 20 deaths is hardly noticeable. Doubling from 150 to 300 sounds a little worse, but is still far lower than the normal death rates from lots of other causes. But as it continues to double every three days, it rapidly grows out of control.

The new coronavirus caused only one U.S. death in February, and over 4000 in March. In April we've seen more than 20,000 and we've still got half the month left. COVID-19 is rapidly becoming the leading cause of death among Americans, and it's still in its early stages. There are times when pessimism is warranted, and this is one.

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