In the last two weeks, people in the United States have grown panicked over the COVID-19 outbreak. People have taken to exhibiting continual fear (ironically weakening their immune systems through chronic stress), avoiding public transport, donning gloves and masks in public, emptying supermarket shelves and stockpiling goods, and becoming belligerent to those whom they feel are not falling in line with the prescriptions bandied in the press.
In short, people are becoming hysterical. I have been accused of being in denial, and I checked the news repeatedly to see if there was some crucial fact I was missing, the omission of which was keeping me from appropriately panicking. Each time I concluded that the circumstances did not justify panic, that despite what those around me were claiming, the world was not, in fact, coming to an end. Moreover, I disagree with the consensus that has taken hold concerning the response to this outbreak, which I hope to elaborate on in a future post.
Putting It In Perspective
For weeks I have listened to the concerns of friends who relayed in shock the news of mounting cases of COVID-19 in the United States or of a new fatality. Well, yeah. It is a virus. Viruses are contagious. The fact that the virus is continuing to spread is not shocking. Why are we acting like this is a surprise?
I do understand that this virus is highly contagious and that the fatality rate is higher than the viruses we are more commonly used to experiencing, like the cold and the flu. But I still cannot get worked up into a panic when I think about the bigger picture.
The Bigger Picture
According to a report in February by China CDC Weekly, 73, 314 individuals in China, the epicenter of the outbreak, were infected and 1,023 persons died from the infection. Certainly these are not numbers we want to see, but we have to put this in perspective. China has a population of 1.435 billion people. That means that less than a hundreth of one percent of the population were infected, and far less than that died as a result.
Italy has become the symbol for the worst consequences of this outbreak among people I’ve spoken to, and again I urge caution. According to the Wikipedia page on the corona outbreak in Italy, 35,713 people have been infected with 2,978 fatalities to date. While they are troubling numbers compared to our ordinary influenza risk, absolute numbers do not tell the full story. Less than one-tenth of one percent of the population has been infected. The fatality rate of around 8.3% is alarming, but keep in mind that far less than 1% of the total population has died.
New York City
The number of corona virus cases in New York City is currently at 1, 871 with the fatalities totaling 11 as of writing. These numbers will definitely continue to grow, but given that 8.4 million people are packed into this city like sardines, I find these numbers almost heartening. So far, less than one-tenth of a percent of the population is infected, and the fatality rate is currently below one percent. Given how congested this city is, I would have expected far worse spread far more quickly.
The Odds Are In Your Favor
I am not a gambling sort, but these are odds I would bet on. This is why I am not panicking. If you knew you had a 99% chance of winning a bet, would you not take it? People routinely play the lottery on inversely lower odds. Despite the hysteria, the overall picture suggests that most of the population will not be infected, and of the minority who will, it seems that most (80.9%) will experience fairly mild symptoms.
Those for whom the virus is fatal tend to have underlying co-morbidities like diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension. Obviously, every death is tragic on a personal level, but the numbers above do not in my mind justify the mass panic that we have seen recently. This virus is not going to wipe out humanity. If you are a relatively healthy, non-elderly person, you will most likely get out of this just fine.