How many degrees of separation are you from COVID-19?
There are different ways to count degrees of separation–the number of relationships one person is away from another.
Generally, everyone is six degrees of separation from any other person. You can reach any person on earth by crossing six social connections. The game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon asks for an actor’s shortest path of costarring roles to reach Kevin Bacon.
There are also degrees of COVID-19 phenomena. They measure how many patients are different degrees of separation from you. In early January, most of the patients were 6 degrees of separation from me. As the pandemic continues, the world is shrinking. When did the degrees of COVID-19 change to 5 for most patients? As the pandemic spreads, that number will get smaller and smaller.
An interesting psychological transition must happen before a disease feels real and threatening. People could be three or four degrees of separation from many COVID-19 patients and not realize it. Cognitively, the number of cases in the US is just a big number without emotional impact. However, knowing your connection to those people might be more visceral.
I’m sure that when people are one or two degrees of separation from COVID-19, the disease will seem to be an obvious threat. The degrees of separation for people who were hospitalized for COVID-19 will be higher, but could be more impactful for people who pooh-pooh the disease’s risks.
I hope that the more macabre statistic, the degrees of COVID-19 deaths will not get low. Leaders must not be heedless because the possibility is real. Decisive action can keep the Degrees of COVID-19 from drifting down further.
How many sick people are 3 or 4 degrees of separation from you is hard to gauge. It’s a crucial fact that is hidden by case counts.
COVID-19 might be a tsunami, but we can always move farther from the shore. Animations that show projections of how my degrees of COVID-19 are changing could be a meaningful display of how close the tsunami is to me.