What?    CoroCon is a game that gives you a feel for how lockdowns can save lives.

     Why?     To make the mathy bits behind social distancing a bit more intuitive.

     How?     Survive the game without getting infected to see how fast infections can spread.

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Pandemic Growth

The scary thing about a pandemic is how fast it can grow and infect a lot of people in very little time, as if without warning. You might think it would take some time to pass from person to person--and it does--but, because the growth rate of the spread itself grows, the effects are beyond what our brains are wired to deal with. What does that mean?

One way to understand it is to look at the growth rate from another angle. Money is something folks have a good feel so I'll go with that approach.

Which will you choose?

Let’s pretend you’re 10 years old, it's New Year's Eve and your parent's resolution is to help you gain some financial chops by giving you a weekly allowance. You’re excited because, this time of year, no one seems to want ice cream except you and now you’ll be able to buy it yourself. You’re even more excited because, if you save up, you might be able to get a bicycle by the time summer arrives. Before they start giving you money, your parents ask you to choose your payment plan. Here are your choices:
  1. Every Saturday, they give you $10
  2. You will get $1 on the first Saturday, $2 on the second Saturday, $3 on the third Saturday, and so on...one dollar more each Saturday
  3. You will get 10¢ on the first Saturday, 20¢ on the second Saturday, 40¢ on the third Saturday, and so on...doubling the amount each Saturday
Let’s say ice cream is $2 and summer begins when school lets out at the end of June so you’d have about 25 weeks to save up. So you try to look a head to see how things will pan out.

The first few weeks

Plan A will allow you to go right out and buy an ice cream from that crazy store that’s open on New Year’s Day. Double chocolate with dark chocolate pieces. Mmmmm. And you can save the remaining $8. By the end of January, you would have saved 4 weeks worth of allowances and had ice cream every week. That’s $32 towards your bicycle and a happy tummy for the entire month. Doing this every week until the end of June isn’t so bad.

Plan A: An ice cream and $8 each week!

With Plan B, you can’t get ice cream this week but you can, starting next week, although you’d skip a week of savings. Still, after that, you can start doing both--having ice cream every week and saving some money. By the end of January, you would have worked out a weekly ice cream habit and started your savings at $4. You had spent the other $6 on 3 weeks of $2 ice creams. It's not looking as good as Plan A but it's growing while Plan A stays the same so maybe it will catch up...

Plan B: A slow start but it's growing...

With Plan C, you’d have to wait on the ice cream a bit. By the end of January, you would only have $1.50 saved up so you can’t afford an ice cream yet. But, really, it is January and no one else is eating ice cream...although it is double chocolate with dark chocolate pieces. Dark chocolate pieces. Still, you’re 10...what’s dark chocolate to you, anyway? But I digress. Plan C grows each week although, so far, the total amount doesn't add up to much.

Plan C: No ice cream for a while but, really, it is winter.

Another few weeks

Say your parents give you a chance to change plans after the first four weeks. Would you? Let's see what happens after another four weeks. As before, Plan A gives you an ice cream and $8 savings a week. By the end of the next four weeks, you have another $32 and a month of happy tummies. So you're up to $64 savings towards the bike now..

Plan A: An ice cream and $8 each week!


With Plan B continues to grow and, in the next four weeks, you get an ice cream every week, just like Plan A, and your savings start to grow. These four weeks, you've saved up $18. So, combined with the first four weeks, you now have $22. It's still a lot less than Plan A.

Plan B continues to grow...


You finally get a taste of some ice cream if you stuck with Plan C. Your savings also grows. Although you only saved $1 in the first four weeks, you've saved $18 during these four weeks so you now have a total savings of $19.50. Not as much as Plan A or Plan B but at least now you're enjoying ice cream every week.

Plan C: No ice cream for a while but, really, it is winter.

After the second four weeks, your parents give you another chance to change plans. You look at how things had gone so far: Plan A saved you $64 while Plan B saved you $22 and Plan C added up to $19.50. But while you get the same amount every week with Plan A, Plan B is slowly growing and Plan C is also growing. Would you change plans?

Summer Time

Fast forward to June. If you went with Plan A, by the last week of June, you would have saved up 25 weeks worth of $10 allowance, which adds up to $250. If you had ice cream every week, that’s $50 you spent on ice cream so you will still have $200 for a bicycle. Not bad. There are some nice mountain bikes in that price range.

Plan A: You've saved enough for a good bicycle

If you went with Plan B, then by the end of June, you would have saved up $325 or, $277 if you had ice cream every week after the first week. Not bad. You can get a mountain bike with extra trimmings. Maybe some knee pads and even a helmet. Definitely a helmet. Forgot about that one. Your parents might get it for you, though, if you had spent all your money on the bicycle--don’t forget that. It should be a freebie.

Plan B: You ended up saving enough for a better bicycle than Plan A and you've only missed one week of ice cream

If you had gone with Plan C and sacrificed ice cream for the entire month of January, you would have ended up with $1,677,682! Let’s see...that’s enough to get a mountain bike with ten wheels! You probably can’t even call it a bicycle then...more like a decacycle! And, possibly with an ice cream maker on top. I’m not sure you’d be able to tear up too many trails with such a bike but you’d probably have enough to buy a bicycle rack for your decacycle that can hold a few mountain bikes, including the ones from Plans A and B, which means you can ride on over to the trails, have fun, and return to your own ice cream maker that does double chocolate with dark chocolate pieces on your decacycle while everyone else is dirty, sweaty, and waiting for their next week’s allowance to buy ice cream.

Plan C: You can buy yourself a bicycle factory and possibly all the ice cream you can eat

That’s exponential growth. Really small at the beginning. So little, you might dismiss it as nothing to take seriously. But, somewhere along the line, it grows into something so huge, it goes off the charts.

If you really can’t do without ice cream that very first week, you might go with Plan A but who wouldn’t want Plan C? In the bicycle / ice cream world, that is. In the pandemic world, you may not want Plan C but there isn’t much of a choice. A pandemic is Plan C.

You don't think it's all that much in the beginning.

A little while later, it still doesn't seem all that impressive. But, somehow, it just runs away like mad and grows to an insane size.

It's hard to see it coming...or is it? Actually, you can see it coming: it's just math and it's completely predictable. But if you don't take it seriously you can be really surprised. For a virus, this could be pretty scary stuff.

So how do you stop it? The social distancing thing is one way to avoid growth. The virus can’t grow if it can’t spread and it can’t spread if there is no one to spread it to.