The world has gone madder than a pit viper caught in a wheat thresher. The cause? The coronavirus epidemic. The disease is still in the early stage of definition. Our understanding of its severity and dissemination is evolving. What’s not evolving is a responsible response to this new pathogen.
Instead of ready, aim, fire we seem to have settled on fire, fire, fire. Fauci, et al have a thoughtful description of where we are regarding Covid-19 in an editorial published in the February 28 number of the NEJM. The reasonable analysis they present could have been constructed by any sober thinker who calmly approached the subject with the information about this new disease that was readily available. Instead the press, never a fount of reflective thought, has had a meltdown similar to the response of 14th century Europe to the advent of the Black Death. That catastrophe killed about half of the continent’s population. Nothing like that confronts us now.
Accordingly, the stock market has crashed, the airline industry seems ready to switch to the horse and buggy, the cruise lines are seen as floating death camps, Italians will have to stop eating pasta, and we’re all going to die. Well, we will, but not in the next six months.
Just how likely is anyone to die from this virus? The initial reports from China where the disease originated suggested a mortality rate of 2%. But it was obvious that this rate was too high. The initial reports were limited to those with severe disease who had pneumonia and required hospitalization. Patients with mild or asymptomatic infections were not included. Thus one could be certain that the mortality rate first reported was too high. We still don’t know what the actual death rate from Covid-19 infection is. Fauci, et al say that it is likely is considerably less than 1% which would put the disorder in the same class a bad year of seasonal flu.
If the same outbreak that emerged from China had been labeled Influenza A the world would have tut-tutted and gone about its business. About the same number of people would have been infected with mostly the same symptoms and mortality rates. The typical severe cases would be in the elderly, the already ill, and in the immunocompromised. The cruise lines would have been a little more conscious of the health status of their passengers and taken measures similar to those they use, with mixed success, to guard against norovirus infections. The airlines would still fly to Asia, the upcoming Tokyo Olympics would remain unthreatened, and your retirement plan would not be cyanotic.
So who’s to blame for the panic in the streets or wherever it’s spreading to? Someone or something always has to be assigned blame. Even a solar eclipse is someone’s fault. Since current fashion is to blame the media for most of life’s problems, I’ll place it primarily on them – hence the title of this screed. Next are the politicians. Those who are out will accuse those who are in of malfeasance and incompetence, while those who are in will claim that their response is unmatched by any since Pericles’ Funeral Oration. Of course, they’ll both be wrong.
Because Covid-19 is very contagious, as is Influenza A, there will doubtless be a lot of cases before the disease runs its course. Whether it will vanish with the return of warm weather in the northern hemisphere is unknown. That it will dissipate is certain. All epidemics end, even if you do everything wrong. The current outbreak of a new viral disease is a serious matter. I don’t wish to diminish the major sequelae that it may cause, but the most likely scenario is that is will resemble a bad flu season with similar rates of major complications and deaths. Stay cool and drink plenty of fluids.Wash your hands. Also be green and stay home because the current hysteria may trap you somewhere you don’t want to be for two weeks. Also, read a book or two. Covid-19 may turn out to be a problem created by fear. FDR famously said “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He was wrong then, but might turn out have been almost nine decades ahead of his time.