My good friend and co-author, Charles L. Hooper, and I made a bet on the number of lives lost in America due to the Covid-19 disease.

Here are the terms:

We’re betting the grand total of $40 at even odds.

I bet that by the end of the calendar year, the number of deaths that can clearly be attributed to the disease will be greater than 100,000.

I talked to Charley on the phone this morning to see why he’s so optimistic. Here’s what he said: these are my words for his thoughts.

First, read Ari Libsker, “Corona Is Slowing Down, Humanity Will Survive, Says Biophysicist Michael Levitt,” CTech, March 13, 2020. By the way, it’s one of those rare cases where the headline dramatically understates the message. Levitt isn’t saying simply that humanity will survive; no one challenges that. He’s saying that the deaths will be way way lower than many are predicting.

Then, noted Charley, pay a lot of attention to this paragraph:

Quarantine makes a difference, according to Levitt, but there are other factors at work. “We know China was under almost complete quarantine, people only left home to do crucial shopping and avoided contact with others. In Wuhan, which had the highest number of infection cases in the Hubei province, everyone had a chance of getting infected, but only 3% caught it,” he explained. “Even on the Diamond Princess (the virus-stricken cruise ship), the infection rate did not top 20%.” Based on these statistics, Levitt said, he concluded that many people are just naturally immune to the virus.

Charley homed in on the quote about the Diamond Princess. He pointed out that that infection rate of 20% happened when people were in very close quarters for many days. So why, he asks, would we expect the rate to be higher in the larger world that is probably a little more “socially distanced” than that, even before the current level of social distancing? And by March 6, the death toll had reached 7. So of at least 696 people who got Covid-19, almost exactly 1% died.

So, argues Charley, let’s say we get an infection rate in the United States of 10% of 330 million. That’s 33 million people. He thinks it will be substantially lower. Let’s say it’s 6%. He thinks it’s reasonable that under 0.5% of them will die. That gives him 99,000.

I will update if Charley contacts me and tells me that I got anything wrong.

Here’s another part of the article that I highlighted to him that gave me hope that way under 50% of people would get infected:

There are several reasons for this [his optimistic prediction], according to Levitt. “In exponential growth models, you assume that new people can be infected every day, because you keep meeting new people. But, if you consider your own social circle, you basically meet the same people every day. You can meet new people on public transportation, for example; but even on the bus, after some time most passengers will either be infected or immune.”

Charley has at least persuaded me that it’s close to even odds and that I have only a slight upper hand. He thinks, of course, that he has the upper hand. But differences in opinion are what make horse races.

By the way, I bet a friend of Charley’s on Facebook, Jean Lockhart, $40 at even odds that over 50,000 people in the United States will die of Covid-19 by the end of the calendar year. That’s one check that I would LOVE to write out.