It may be counterintuitive, but it's actually better if the novel coronavirus outbreak lasts awhile in the U.S., public health experts say.
Between the lines: If everyone who is going to get sick does so at once, it would overwhelm the health care system, putting all of us — not just those with the coronavirus — at risk.
- "Time is our friend. The longer we can spread things out, the better it is," said Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.
The big picture: There are only so many hospital beds in the U.S., and around 70–75% of them are occupied at any given time, Jha said.
- If around 30–40% of Americans end up infected with the coronavirus over only a few months, the hospital-bed math just doesn't work.
- On the other hand, if we can contain the virus's spread so that it takes 12 to 18 months to work its way through the population, "then we have a shot at not completely overwhelming the health care system," Jha said.
The good news: That's why public health officials keep talking about social distancing — it can prevent this bottleneck effect.
- "If we don't do it, you'll have tens of thousands of people dying because they cannot get hospital care. To me, it's not a close call which is worse," Jha said.
The bottom line: The coronavirus may affect our daily lives for a long time — and that may be a good thing.
Go deeper: How to beat back the coronavirus