How Bad Is the Coronavirus? Aren’t We Overreacting? Is It a Conspiracy? Please Listen to the Scientists!Read Now
There is considerable anxiety regarding the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. One of the great unknowns is how bad it will be. The worldwide fatality rate for the virus is 4%. Some people say that the total number of cases is being underestimated which inflates death rates. They claim that the COVID-19 pandemic fatality rate will be no worse than that of the seasonal flu (around 0.09%). Therefore it is unnecessary to cancel travel and sporting events, close businesses, or suspend work. Is the response to COVID-19 overblown? Are scientists irresponsibly hyping the disease for the media and the government with ulterior motives?
As would be expected from what I explained before in a previous post, there are already several conspiracy theories circulating regarding the virus. As of now, the vast majority of Americans do not know personally any individuals who have contracted COVID-19 or died from the disease. As far as these people are concerned, life seemed to be going on pretty much the same as it always had until the government stepped in and started curtailing their freedom. All they have to go on is what they see and read in the news and science websites. Therefore, they have to accept that what they are being told is true, and they have to trust those who are telling it to them. The problem is that for years these very same people have been told that that scientists are dishonest and have a hidden agenda, that news organizations are biased and peddle fake news, and that the government is not to be trusted. Many of these people have wholeheartedly embraced conspiracy theories. How can individuals who believe, for example, that global warming is a hoax or that vaccines are harmful and unnecessary trust scientists, the news media, or government to relay to them the facts regarding COVID-19?
In this post, I will try to do my best to get some points across.
As I write this, the worldwide death rate due to COVID-19 is 4% ranging from as high as 8% in Italy to 0.2% in Germany (1.3 % in the United States), and the number of cases is increasing exponentially in some countries. This large variation may be due to many factors such as the makeup of the population and their social characteristics, the quality of healthcare in the country, how early the country responded to the virus, etc. The country that has performed the most tests compared to their total population is South Korea. Although testing has some problems of its own that can result in underestimation of the real number of cases, is likely that South Korea’s numbers regarding the total number of cases of COVID-19 is closer to the real number of total cases. The death rate from the virus in South Korea is 1%, so this lower death rate is probably closer to the “real” death rate of COVID-19. But this figure is still 10 times higher than that for the seasonal flu. It is estimated that the current seasonal flu has infected an average of 46 million American producing 41,000 deaths. If COVID-19, were to infect 46 million Americans, it could produce 460,000 deaths, which is greater than the number of Americans who died during World War II.
It must also be stressed that COVID-19 is a new virus. This means that, unlike the seasonal flu, there is no immunity against it in human populations. Also, the ability of the COVID-19 virus to spread in a population seems to be as high as, or even higher than that of the seasonal flu. One final aspect of the disease is hospitalizations and intensive care. In China 15% of the people afflicted with the virus required hospitalization and 5% ended up in intensive care. In Italy the numbers are much grimmer, 50% required hospitalization and 10% ended up in intensive care. By comparison people infected with the flu in the United States have a rate of hospitalization of less than 1.2%. Even if COVID-19 in the United States results in 10% of patients being hospitalized, this level of hospitalizations has the potential to overwhelm the health care system. While older people with preexisting conditions seem to be at higher risk of hospitalizations, so far in the United States 38% of those sick enough to be hospitalized are younger than 55, so that is also a cause of concern.
Do you see now why scientists are spooked and are advising the media and the government to report and proceed accordingly? And this is not just scientists in the United States. Scientists from every country in the world are sounding the alarm. These are individuals who have different religious and philosophical beliefs, different political opinions, and come from various ethnic and social backgrounds, but they are all saying the same thing. How can this be a conspiracy? It is true that there are unknowns. It is true that the real effect of the virus may turn out to be milder than expected, but do we want to risk it?
Some people complain that in the last pandemic that affected the United States, the Swine flu of 2009, apart from some school closings, no further drastic measures were taken. It must be understood that drastic measures to curtail the spread of a virus will harm the economy and may even cause a recession. Recessions lead to layoffs, they stress individuals and families, and they affect the physical and mental health of the population. Recessions kill and harm individuals and have long lasting consequences. Therefore, drastic measures to curtail the spread of a virus may harm the economy and should not be taken lightly.
Early on in the Swine Flu pandemic scientists obtained data that indicated that the virus would not be as bad as it seemed to be initially and recommended against drastic measures to curtail the spread of the virus. The recommendation turned out to be accurate. The Swine Flu resulted in the hospitalization of 0.45% of those affected producing a 0.02% mortality. This mortality still represented 12,500 deaths, but was substantially below those of the seasonal flu.
Scientists tell us that we should be concerned about COVID-19 and that we should modify our behavior to protect ourselves and others. They do so based on the best available data, and they inform the news media and advise the government accordingly. What these scientists do is not different from what other scientists are doing raising the alarm about global warming and telling us that vaccines do not cause autism and explaining how important they are in protecting us from disease.
Please listen to the scientists!
The image of the worldwide spread of COVID-19 from the Wikipedia Commons is used here under an Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0) license.