The hysteria over the coronavirus has hit, if you’ll pardon the expression, fever pitch. The media are full of dire prognostications about the future, while online sites run scary data projections showing potentially millions dying from the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. And of course, financial markets have cratered, investors fearing the worst.
But is the hysteria warranted? What do we really know about this virus? There are, according to the most recent estimates, roughly 128,000 people with the COVID-19 virus, spread over 111 countries. So far, about 4,700 people have died.
The problem is, no one knows if those numbers are even close to correct. Reports of new cases keep arising, and anecdotal reports of mass graves for COVID-19 victims in Iran and body disposals in China do little to encourage optimism.
Thousands and thousands of people may be walking around with the virus, and don’t even know it. Some people who’ve contracted the disease have said the symptoms were mild. It seems to be deadliest for the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.
Even the death rate is in dispute. We’ve seen estimates ranging from a high of around 3%, to as low as 0.6%. The common flu, which spreads much faster than COVID-19, has just a 0.1% death rate.
Yet because the flu hits so many people during flu season, the death toll is high. Last year, in the 2018-2019 flu season, 61,000 Americans died from the flu, about 12 times the total global toll for COVID-19 so far. The season before that, it was 80,000 dead.
How do the 4,700 COVID-19 deaths worldwide stack up so far to deaths from the plain old flu? Michael Fumento, who has written extensively on epidemics and science for three decades, reminded us earlier this week in the New York Post: “Flu, by comparison, grimly reaps about 291,000 to 646,000 annually.”
Yet tens of millions of people each year avoid getting a simple flu shot.
The Real Killer: The Regular Flu
This year, Townhall columnist Jack Kerwick cites Centers for Disease Control data to remind us “that between October and Feb. 22, there have been 45 million cases of the flu in the United States, 560,000 hospitalizations, and 46,000 fatalities.”
Where’s the hysteria over that?
Given what we know, taking precautions is a great idea. Hysteria isn’t. Social distancing works, though it’s not perfect. Letting workers telecommute when possible is also wise.
Habitually washing hands with soap and warm water, and cleaning countertops, doorknobs and other frequently touched surfaces with alcohol or hydrogen-peroxide-based agents when possible will also help slow the transmission.
The NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball, NASCAR and the NCAA, among others, have taken bold steps to halt the virus’ spread by ensuring that their events aren’t breeding grounds for the Wuhan flu. That includes speatator-less games and tournaments.
Conferences, special events, business travel, major meetings, even rock concerts have been cancelled or postponed.
Meanwhile, average Americans have hoarded toilet paper, paper towels, medical masks, water, canned goods, fearing the worst: A lengthy flu quarantine in their homes.
Trump Speaks, Markets Fall
That’s why it was a good idea for President Donald Trump to speak to the nation on Wednesday night about the COVID-19 threat, and what the government is doing about it. He struck a presidential note, cautioning against hysteria and urging Americans to work together to beat the coronavirus, regardless of political beliefs.
While we need to remain concerned and vigilant, the hysteria — much of it driven by an irresponsible U.S. media seeking to whip up fear and division to remove Trump from office — is getting out of hand.
The British Guardian recently noted that, compared to past epidemics and pandemics, the response outside of China has been quick. It points out that just 10 days after the virus was announced on New Year’s eve, it already had been identified and its DNA sequenced.
At least three companies, and possibly more, have claimed to have possible vaccines for COVID-19. While those possible cures still await both animal and human testing, which will take months, it’s highly unlikely that the Wuhan flu will menace us beyond this year.
Taking advantage of research by Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute into COVID-19’s genetic structure, the National Institutes of Health have joined with biotech research company Moderna to create a vaccine that could begin testing soon.
“I would hope within a few weeks we may be able to make an announcement to you all that we’ve given the first shot to the first person,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Congress this week.
Even so, a usable vaccine isn’t expected for a year.
Another possible treatment, California-based Gilead Sciences’ anti-viral drug Remdesivir, is already being used on coronavirus patients in hard-hit Washington state.
Halting Coronavirus’ Spread
For now, the Centers for Disease Control have advised Americans not to travel to the especially hard-hit countries of China, South Korea, Italy and Iran.
In addition to a State Department warning against taking trips on cruise ships, Trump unveiled a tough new 30-day travel ban on Europe to halt the virus’ spread as he spoke about the coronavirus, and the panic, on Wednesday night.
Immediately and predictably, CNN, the Washington Post, MSNBC and others trashed Trump’s address.
In the speech, Trump tried to calm the nation. He called on people to put aside differences and work together.
“History has proven time and time again, Americans always rise to the challenge and overcome adversity,” he said.
For some, that’s not possible.
It’s true Trump’s comments spooked financial markets. Stocks on major indexes plunged nearly 10% Thursday, as the prospect of businesses closing for extended periods of time to deal with the flu threat raised the threat of bankruptcy and job cuts and, possibly, global recession.
They thought there’d be more than payroll tax cuts for them. On Thursday, the Fed said it would step up its efforts by injecting $1.5 trillion in liquidity into flailing financial markets.
But don’t blame Trump for this. China didn’t tell the world about its exploding problem with the virus until late in the game. Trump acted early, and aggressively, and was criticized for it.
Since then, the very same Trump-hating U.S. media have relentlessly whipped up both fear and hysteria, with some even hoping for COVID-19 to become “Trump’s Katrina” or “Trump’s Chernobyl.”
These are people who would rather get rid of Trump than save your life. Please remember that.
Americans, and U.S. businesses, need to reject the politically driven hysteria. Yes, there are likely to be thousands of new cases, as is inevitable with a pandemic of this sort. And, sadly, there will be more deaths. But we will get beyond this. Hysteria is no replacement for facts.
— Written by Terry Jones