Ever hear about the “wheat and chessboard” problem?

Take a grain of wheat and put it on a square of a chessboard. Put two grains on the next square. Put four grains on the next square… And so on until you’ve covered the entire 8×8 grid with grains of wheat.

How many grains of wheat do you have at the end?

2^64 -1 grains of wheat.

That is what we call in the IT world, “a shit ton.”

But first, a digression…

Bill Gate’s net worth is something like $102 Billion. $102,000,000,000, or $1.02×10^11 in scientific notation.

Big number, yeah?

I hear you asking, “How many grains of wheat is that in scientific notation?”

Excellent question: that’d be 1.844674407×10^19 grains of wheat in scientific notation.

So, there’s 8 *orders of magnitude* — a billion times — more grains of wheat than the number of dollars in Bill Gate’s rather large piggy bank. It’s a whopping big number.

COVID-19 has an R0, the basic reproduction number, of between 1.4 and 3.9. For argument’s sake, let’s make that a nice, even 2. This means, for each person infected, they’ll infect two more.

So, the first person to get it — Patient Zero — infects two more. Those two more infect four more. Four more infect eight more…

It can take up to two weeks for someone sloughing off viral laden bio-hazards to begin to show symptoms.

Patient Zero infects two on day two (and doesn’t infect anyone else for the remainder of the outbreak), on day 14, our “grains of wheat” have exposed 2^14 -1 other grains of wheat to COVID-19, or 16,383 people. Our first guy is just *just now* beginning to show symptoms…

As of Friday, 13 Mar 2020, we have 1,629 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

That’s between 2 ^ 11 and 2 ^ 12.

If all these poor people have the SAME Patient Zero, and if my math’s right, that means we’re somewhere around day 12 or 13…

Unfortunately, we’re not that lucky.

Remember, the vast majority of the people exposed won’t show symptoms (that is, they’re asymptomatic).

Aside from hand washing and not touching your face, social isolation is the best way to prevent the further spread of a pandemic.

So, stay home, have a beer, and quit hoarding toilet paper.