Social Distancing? Not a cure, but a postponement.

I’m just another person, not an expert.  But I did study (too long) statistics and trying to get my head around what’s going on frankly gives me a headache.  I want to disagree with Elon Musk’s opinion that this is all ‘dumb’ but part of me just wants to agree with him.  Today in particular, these thoughts were triggered by a graph posted in the our daily national newspaper the Globe & Mail.


I believe this is statistically a pretty accurate assessment of what occurs with everyone staying away from one another. At any point in time, there are fewer people infected. The same percentage of people infected probably die from the infection (unless access to a ventilator for example actually prevents deaths for the sickly and elderly – I’ve not heard evidence to this effect).

A byproduct, and likely the most rational objective, is that the pandemic is spread out over time.  Having a lower ‘peak’ means our healthcare system (with limited beds and professionals) can deal with fewer cases at any one point in time.

Many people seem to be under the impression that the virus simply dies after of few weeks (or months) of social distancing.  In reality, it just slows down.  Polio and the plague didn’t just die – we either discovered a vaccine or changed our attitudes towards cleanliness.  (The Body, by Bill Bryson is an excellent book everyone should read).  I’ve heard experts state that these types of viruses will ‘peak’ and cannot really be contained.  The intent of social distancing then, is not to stop it, but in fact to slow it down…period.

The billionaire Bill Ackman (famous hedge fund dude) was ranting on CNBC that everyone should stay locked up for 30 days to ‘eradicate’ (my word, not his) the disease.  But this will not happen.  (His panic may have as much to do with losing a lot of money as a fear of the coronavirus).


“Hell is coming,” said Ackman, in a frenzied 28-minute interview. “Shut it down now,” he said of the economy, “There is a tsunami coming.”


So if the infestation needs to peak before it fizzles, why (besides avoiding the overwhelming of healthcare services) not just let it peak?  Worse case scenario is a large segment of the population is home sick and business and services are unavailable.  Oh, isn’t that what we’re doing voluntarily?  Except healthy people who could be working and providing services are at home – when they do finally get back to work it is most probable (talking statistics again) they’ll get sick then.  The virus will still be kicking around – we’ve simply postponed it.

We need time to develop a vaccine or treatment some might argue.  Experts have declared this will take at least a year – if the world stops for an entire year the Great Depression will look like a walk in the park.  I don’t know about you, but I’d hate to go an entire year without toilet paper.



About Mal Spooner

Malvin Spooner is a veteran money manager, former CEO of award-winning investment fund management boutique he founded. He authored A Maverick Investor's Guidebook which blends his experience touring across the heartland in the United States with valuable investing tips and stories. He has been quoted and published for many years in business journals, newspapers and has been featured on many television programs over his career. An avid motorcycle enthusiast, and known across Canada as a part-time musician performing rock ‘n’ roll for charity, Mal is known for his candour and non-traditional (‘maverick’) thinking when discussing financial markets. His previous book published by Insomniac Press — Resources Rock: How to Invest in the Next Global Boom in Natural Resources which he authored with Pamela Clark — predicted the resources boom back in early 2004.
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