Apocalypse now

Nic Muranaka

Photo credit: Monika Clarke

By now you’ve probably tried to buy toilet paper and been thwarted by apocalypse preppers, who, in their genius, already bought out all the toilet paper a week ago.

As of March 14, six Utah residents have been diagnosed with coronavirus, alongside two out-of-state visitors who were also showing symptoms of the disease. Utah has just over three million residents, so, on average, 1 out of every 500,000 people you know has the disease at the time of writing.

Note that back in 2013, the New York Times reported on research out of Columbia University that argued the average American knows 600 people. Also, averages are terrible because the one person who knows 100,000 people drags the number way up while all the people who know three people drag the number way down. However, we have to work with what numbers we have.

You should still be afraid.

See, that 1 out of 500,000 people is pretty small. But what the government doesn’t want you to think about is that most apocalypse and post-apocalyptic fiction involving plague, disease or some form of epidemic begin with a seemingly-innocuous inciting event.

One person’s a zombie, and then suddenly everyone’s a zombie.

2011’s “Contagion,” featuring a star-studded cast of Marion Cotillard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Jude Law and Kate Winslet gives us a pretty good model of what we can expect. In “Contagion,” Paltrow returns home from a business trip to Hong Kong, unwittingly the carrier of an exceptionally-lethal disease called MEV-1. The disease spreads quickly, and people start dropping like flies.

Except, they don’t. Scientists in the film predict the mortality rate at 25 to 30 percent, and ultimately, MEV-1 kills off 2.5 million Americans. America has just over 325 million citizens, so about 1 in every 130 people in America dies.

In other words, we may have to concede that not everyone’s a zombie.

However, as an honestly-somewhat-disappointing 1 in every 130 people is dying off, Law’s character posts to his blog about how he developed an alternative medicine cure to the disease using forsythia.

The general populace riots in search of forsythia, just like I’m about to riot if I have to order toilet paper online because I refuse to be the person who ordered toilet paper online. You have to draw your line somewhere.

The World Health Organization put the coronavirus mortality rate at 3.4 percent earlier this month, but it’s a difficult statistic to pin down as the disease keeps spreading. At 3.4 percent, though, the disease’s kill ratio is paltry compared to the fictional MEV-1.

Since its mortality rate is so low, for COVID-19 to achieve a similar kill rate to the fictional MEV-1, coronavirus has to infect 74 million Americans, or slightly over 1 in every 4 people. Using the power of math, MEV-1 is 30 times as lethal as COVID-19.

I’m not a math person, so if someone out there knows better, please let me know. I’ll definitely read everything you send me.

Even in worlds where everyone’s a zombie, everyone’s not a zombie. The famously-lethal zombies of “The Walking Dead” manage to kill of most of the world’s population; they’re advantaged by, once they kill a survivor, the survivor guaranteed comes back as a zombie unless someone destroys their brain in the time between death and the onset of the change.

Robert Kirkman, the comic’s creator, proclaimed a global zombie-to-human ratio of 5000-to-1. Today’s world has about 7.8 billion people, so if TWD’s outbreak happened tomorrow, we’d have about 1.5 million survivors.

Back in 2016, Matt Lieberman of SourceFed, a pop culture YouTube channel, did some math to determine the worldwide survivors of the TWD show on AMC. The show introduced 347 characters by 2016, almost 73 percent of whom died off.

Applying a 73 percent kill ratio over time to our 1.5 million survivors, we’d be whittled down to about 400,000 global survivors. Also, there’s no cure to TWD’s zombies.

Zombie fiction is, generally, characterized by the extreme lethality of the zombie outbreak. Still, remember that at the time of writing, 1 in every 500,000 people you know has the coronavirus in Utah. If TWD zombies replaced coronavirus, you instead know 100 of those 500,000 people; the other 499,900 people are zombies trying to kill you.

Also, the survivors in TWD stockpile guns and food and not toilet paper.

The point here, though, isn’t to demean the apocalypse preppers; it’s to endorse them. The end is coming. Disappointingly slowly, of course. And people have recovered from the coronavirus, and it has an incubation period of 14 days, and it’s created an admittedly-small (read: zero) number of flesh-eating zombies. But it’s coming.

Of course, my plan is to simply buy useful items, like food and weapons. That way, when world governments collapse completely, I can steal all the toilet paper I need.