They have us under their spell. We can't stop checking, memorising, reciting. They roll in daily like the waves we're not allowed to swim in or surf.
They're numbers. Coronavirus has stoked an obsession with numbers: new cases, recovered cases, death rates in our own country and abroad.
Director of Public Health, Caroline McElnay announced 8 new cases of Covid-19, with two additional deaths Friday.
Eight-hundred sixteen people had recovered from coronavirus, and the total number of infections has reached 1409.
Fourteen people are in hospital, three in ICU. Two are in a critical condition.
Four per cent of cases are still under investigation.
More than 74,000 tests have been carried out around the country.
Community transmission is believed to sit at 2 per cent.
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Why should we care about these statistics when we have a relatively low number of Covid-19 cases? Because of the power of exponential curves. A famous example asks whether you'd rather have $1 million today, or 1c that doubles each day for 30 days. A cool million in the hand versus a measly penny that keeps doubling? By the end of one month, the penny would have become $5,368,709.12.
Exponential growth. It's what New Zealand seems to have avoided so far in its battle against Covid-19.
The dilemma for scientists and public health officials has been how to communicate numbers for potential virus transmission and actual transmission without saying the sky is falling, or minimising the problem.
We don't want to be indifferent and we don't want to panic about the pandemic and its sidekick, economic tsunami. Best-case unemployment projections in New Zealand: 10 per cent. Worse case: 26 per cent if lockdown is extended beyond four weeks. More numbers: billions of government money for wage subsidies and small business help.
I tell myself I'll take a break from news, then, like an addict, pore over maps from the New York Times showing worldwide data on coronavirus cases, deaths and mortality rates. Globally, 2.2 million cases. Around 145,000 deaths. And rising.
We become numb to numbers. The Washington Post recently reminded us: "Behind every reported death, every data point on a curve or chart, is a name and a story: preachers and politicians, health-care workers and teachers, police officers and prisoners, parents and children."
Statistics can help us ignore the painful reality people just like us are dying.
• In Italy, 22170 deaths, nearly 37 per 100,000 people.
• In Spain, 19,315 deaths, about 41 per 100,000.
• In Iran, 4869 deaths, 6 per 100,000.
• In the US, 30,659 deaths, 9 per 100,000.
• In China, 3342 deaths, or 0.2 per 100,000.
• In the UK, 13,729 deaths, nearly 21 per 100,000.
• In Australia, 63 deaths, or 0.3 per 100,000.
• In New Zealand, 11 deaths, or 0.2 per 100,000.
On the last day of February, federal health officials reported 15 Americans had tested positive for Covid-19.
On the last day of January, Italy confirmed coronavirus in two Chinese tourists visiting Rome. Since then, the virus has grown exponentially.
We're told our lockdown has resulted in thousands of lives saved.
Research released by Te Pūnaha Matatini suggested that, left unchecked, the virus could eventually infect 89 per cent of New Zealand's population and kill up to 80,000 people in a worst-case scenario.
Intensive care beds would fill within two months and patients needing the ICU would exceed 10 times capacity by the time the virus peaked.
However, with the strictest suppression measures, fatalities would drop to just 0.0004 per cent, which is 20 people.
Numbers we don't know about are just as important as those we can discern. What graphs and statistics don't reveal is the number of Covid-19 cases not captured, which some experts say could be 90 per cent.
We may never know, even with highly educated guesstimates based on population sampling, how many people have had the virus.
So we count hospital beds, ventilators, masks, gowns … vital pieces of equipment in short supply in virus hotspots.
We count the months until a vaccine might be available (12-18). We count days we've been in lockdown and days until we'll know how soon we can start re-entering the world.
On a macro level, we try to understand numbers in the world. In our own microcosms, we try to make sense of our shrunken social circles and restricted geography. Three people at my dinner table. Every night. Two metres of distance between us and those outside our bubble. Two kilometres to walk the dog several blocks. One grocery store trip this week. Eight online shopping trips for items such as a computer mouse, headphones, electric blankets, extension cords, fuzzy slippers and stick mixer (to make soups and mayonnaise).
Four kitchen visits between 9am and 1pm. Four dozens cookies baked and eaten; two pumpkin pies; one lockdown (bread) loaf; one slow cooker loaf; two sourdough loaves and a half-dozen hot cross buns from a local bakery that delivers.
Two visits from two different plumbers for a mystery leak behind the shower. Ten times shutting off the water. Six towels to sop up the mess. 40 hours running a dehumidifier - and counting.
If you're a sports fan, coronavirus statistics have replaced cricket, rugby and football scores.
We are obsessed, terrified and reassured by pandemic numbers worldwide, in hardest-hit countries and on our own island nation.
One number I'm focussing on as I dream of post-lockdown life: hugs I'll give friends when I finally see them again. It's one exponential growth curve I'd be happy to achieve.