Treat COVID-19 Like A Bad Fart

The simplest way to understand all the guidelines

From the anime Butt Detective

We need to treat COVID-19 like a bad fart. The simplest guideline is to imagine that everyone around you has deadly, contagious, and uncontrollable gas. Everybody’s just cutting loose, and it kills. You’ll immediately know the right response. Stay 2m away. If you’re stuck inside, crack a window. If at all possible, just stay home.

See? You don’t need complicated guidelines. Just imagine a wave of global flatulence and you’ll know exactly what to do.

I’ve gone through Korea’s reopening guidelines in detail, but it’s honestly easier to just think of them this way. The world has just ripped one. Act accordingly.

The science of spread

A cough. Gary Settles, Penn State

COVID-19 does not literally spread through farts. It seems to spread primarily through droplets — coughs, sneezes, etc. These are also perturbations of the air, just on the other end.

What researchers have found is that these face farts tend to spread most offensively in closed spaces. Just have a look at this study from a Guangzhou restaurant.

Restaurant tables and air conditioning airflow at the site of an outbreak of 2019 novel coronavirus disease, Guangzhou, China, 2020. Red circles indicate seating of future case-patients; yellow-filled red circle indicates index case-patient.

The index case A1 (yellow) was asymptomatic, so either lightly coughing or just breathing. His droplets spread to everyone in line with the AC (presumably bouncing off the wall as well) but not anyone else.

Hence, the right behavior, in this case, would have been to sit further apart, and crack a window.

Here’s a study of spread in a Korean call center:

From the Korea CDC

The KCDC tested nearly 1,000 people in the building and infections were largely contained to those sharing the same room. The same A/C’d room, recirculating air.

These are the general findings that have led to guidelines like Korea’s, calling for ventilation, open windows, and being outdoors as much as possible. A Japanese study reported that transmission is 19X more likely in a closed environment. A look at over 7,000 cases in China found only one outdoor outbreak, involving two people.

COVID-19 seems to spread like a bad smell. Like a fart.

The logic of farts

Modified image from Butt Detective: The Movie

I mention farts not because it’s funny, but because it helps. Metaphors are how we understand new information, and this is the most primal metaphor of them all. Everybody farts.

I’ve written 2,700 words on Korea’s reopening guidelines, much of them on ventilation, but it’s complicated and boring. A fart joke, however, you’ll understand in a minute. And the result is the same. You’ll know instinctively what to do.

So just imagine that every face is a butt. My God put a mask on it, and keep it away from me. Imagine that the news announced a wave of Silent But Deadlies, we’d all keep a 2-meter distance right quick. We’d cross the road. If your entire office went to Taco Bell, you’d open the windows and ask people to spread out. Or just go home.

You don’t need to understand droplets or transmissions or aerosols. You don’t need to read the studies or official guidelines (but do). Every culture going back to the BCs has understood and enjoyed a good fart joke. We all fart, and when someone rips one, we know what to do.

This is the simplest way to understand social distancing, masking, ventilation, and all the hundred things we need to do to fight this novel coronavirus. Just assume that everyone is farting in your general direction, and act as if. You’ll immediately get most of the behaviors right.