Coronavirus reactions: Nonchalance, concern, fear, and panic

Something strange is happening with respect to the novel coronavirus.  Americans are taking sides, as if a potentially deadly pathogen is a member of a political party.

Many on the left appear to be whipping up hysteria and using this as their next weapon to take down Trump, while accusing those of us who support him of having a disregard for what's unfolding.

Many on the right appear to be a bit glib while accusing the left of whipping up panic, as if the fact that the left is doing that dismisses any other realities this new virus poses.

Both attitudes appear to exist at opposite ends of the spectrum.  Why must anyone have either attitude to prove his allegiance to some political party or worldview?


Image credit: Department of State.

Any new pathogen is unnerving.  Sometimes in medicine, the unknown is even more frightening than the known, even if what we come to know is bad news.  There is often some level of relief in finally, at least, getting clarity.  (Ask anyone who's waiting for test results to rule out a serious diagnosis or who has a complex health issue that doctors can't quite figure out.)

So coronavirus is new, and there's a lot we don't know about it.  That's concerning and creates anxiety for many people, which is understandable — especially in the case of a virus that can kill as well as one that has a long incubation period.

The good news is that healthy people seem to fare well if they contract the virus.  But people who are elderly or who have serous underlying health issues are at risk for developing complications — complications that can be fatal.  I frequently read comments on conservative blogs referring to the fact that many who have died in the United States (such as the cluster in the nursing home in Seattle) were very old and sick anyway, as if that somehow takes away from the fact that this virus was the thing that ultimately caused their death.

It's disconcerting to read such offhand comments on conservative websites, especially since I think of our team as being pro-life across a broad spectrum of concerns, not just abortion.  So to read comments that belittle or devalue the impact of having a frail elderly person succumb to this virus seems harsh.

As to oft-read comparisons to mortality and the flu, I agree that there's a point to be made there.  However, I disagree with assertions that the media don't hype flu stats.  They quite often do.  In recent years, when the flu has been very bad or lasted longer than usual, or when the flu vaccine was not particularly effective, there was constant coverage.  Suffering and death sell.

In addition, and also flu-related, current data show that the coronavirus is far more deadly than the flu, which has a mortality rate of 0.1% compared to the coronavirus that has a mortality rate of 3.4%.

We also know a lot about the flu, including the fact that it's seasonal.  We can map out when it will be most active, when it will peak, and when it will wane.  But we don't yet know how the coronavirus will play out, if it will be seasonal, or if it will just keep rolling year round, like the common cold.

Also, because this virus is new, people don't have immunity to it.  That's a dangerous situation, especially since we don't yet have a vaccine, nor are there medications that we can use to treat it effectively.

Factor in the CDC's horribly slow roll-out of tests due to a "glitch," and we're more behind the curve instead of out in front of it.

Then there's the economic impact.  And we may just be at the tip of the iceberg.

So, all in all, I don't think panic is helpful in any situation.  But given the numerous variables, I think the situation must be taken very seriously.

Something strange is happening with respect to the novel coronavirus.  Americans are taking sides, as if a potentially deadly pathogen is a member of a political party.

Many on the left appear to be whipping up hysteria and using this as their next weapon to take down Trump, while accusing those of us who support him of having a disregard for what's unfolding.

Many on the right appear to be a bit glib while accusing the left of whipping up panic, as if the fact that the left is doing that dismisses any other realities this new virus poses.

Both attitudes appear to exist at opposite ends of the spectrum.  Why must anyone have either attitude to prove his allegiance to some political party or worldview?


Image credit: Department of State.

Any new pathogen is unnerving.  Sometimes in medicine, the unknown is even more frightening than the known, even if what we come to know is bad news.  There is often some level of relief in finally, at least, getting clarity.  (Ask anyone who's waiting for test results to rule out a serious diagnosis or who has a complex health issue that doctors can't quite figure out.)

So coronavirus is new, and there's a lot we don't know about it.  That's concerning and creates anxiety for many people, which is understandable — especially in the case of a virus that can kill as well as one that has a long incubation period.

The good news is that healthy people seem to fare well if they contract the virus.  But people who are elderly or who have serous underlying health issues are at risk for developing complications — complications that can be fatal.  I frequently read comments on conservative blogs referring to the fact that many who have died in the United States (such as the cluster in the nursing home in Seattle) were very old and sick anyway, as if that somehow takes away from the fact that this virus was the thing that ultimately caused their death.

It's disconcerting to read such offhand comments on conservative websites, especially since I think of our team as being pro-life across a broad spectrum of concerns, not just abortion.  So to read comments that belittle or devalue the impact of having a frail elderly person succumb to this virus seems harsh.

As to oft-read comparisons to mortality and the flu, I agree that there's a point to be made there.  However, I disagree with assertions that the media don't hype flu stats.  They quite often do.  In recent years, when the flu has been very bad or lasted longer than usual, or when the flu vaccine was not particularly effective, there was constant coverage.  Suffering and death sell.

In addition, and also flu-related, current data show that the coronavirus is far more deadly than the flu, which has a mortality rate of 0.1% compared to the coronavirus that has a mortality rate of 3.4%.

We also know a lot about the flu, including the fact that it's seasonal.  We can map out when it will be most active, when it will peak, and when it will wane.  But we don't yet know how the coronavirus will play out, if it will be seasonal, or if it will just keep rolling year round, like the common cold.

Also, because this virus is new, people don't have immunity to it.  That's a dangerous situation, especially since we don't yet have a vaccine, nor are there medications that we can use to treat it effectively.

Factor in the CDC's horribly slow roll-out of tests due to a "glitch," and we're more behind the curve instead of out in front of it.

Then there's the economic impact.  And we may just be at the tip of the iceberg.

So, all in all, I don't think panic is helpful in any situation.  But given the numerous variables, I think the situation must be taken very seriously.