Coronavirus & Construction #2 (Mar 20)

In the last post I did math to figure if and when Covid-19 overwhelms hospitals. The next few weeks will determine how accurate it was. Massive social distancing may prevent a crisis.

There is a second problem that may be more serious, with an even bigger impact on construction businesses (and everyone else).

By now, you’ve probably seen the “flatten the curve” graphic. If the R0  reproduction value is high, the number of cases is a steep bell-shaped curve. If it’s lower, then the curve is more shallow and the peak is lower. If people aren’t close together, R0 drops.

With an infection growth rate of 15% and no social distancing, half the US population will test positive for Covid-19 approximately May 31. At 25% growth it’s May 3. At 30% it’s April 26. The US is not ready for that size of widespread disaster. Just look at Italy or Iran. It’s worth the chaos now, to flatten the curve and have the next couple months be less insane.

Problem is, those curves don’t have a time scale.

To avoid high death rates, R0  has to be low enough to not overwhelm hospitals, and stay that way until nobody is catching the disease. Containment is unlikely with such a highly-infective virus, so it ends when almost everyone has caught it (resulting in “herd immunity”).

It’s not hard to calculate how long it takes to handle Covid-19 safely. It goes like this:

1. Start with US population (327.2 million).
2. Estimate how many will eventually get Covid-19.
3. Estimate how many of those get pneumonia.
4. Multiply that by average duration in critical care (about 14 days).
5. The result is ICU-days. Divide that by the number of ICU beds available (65,000 to 95,000). The final result is days required to flatten the curve.

You’ll notice there aren’t numbers for steps 2 and 3. This is a new disease, so there isn’t good data for those yet.  However, it’s possible to plug guesses into the spreadsheet, and see what results.

Assuming 70% of people eventually get Covid-19 (the best guess I’ve seen online) and 5% of them end up in intensive care (probably close to results from Wuhan and Italy), the curve needs to be spread out over 4.6 to 6.8 years to avoid zapping the health system. If 1% need ICU care, it requires 338 to 493 days. Of course, many folks are working on vaccines, but those will still take 12 to 18 months to test and produce. That’s a very long spell of social isolating.

Hospitals in the US are run for profit, or by non-profits that are chronically underfunded. To cut expenses, they eliminated excess beds and staff that would have come in handy, right about now. Japan has 13 hospital beds per 1,000 people. S Korea has 12, Germany 8, China 4, US 2.77.

I’m really not sure what the consequences will be for small construction companies, small software companies, or anyone.

Dennis Kolva
Programming Director



Author: Dennis Kolva

Programming Director for Turtle Creek Software. Design & planning of accounting and estimating software.