The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Age of Hysteria

We live in an age of hysteria, often fueled by irresponsible media reporting that emphasizes the things that are intended to frighten the public and avoid those hard facts that provide context and might calm nerves. Nothing exemplifies that more that the current media frenzy surrounding COVID-19, a.k.a. "Coronavirus," a respiratory illness that has infected tens of thousand in China (context: a country of 1.4 billion people). Although data are sketchy, the fatality rate associated with COVID-19 is between 1 and 3 percent and in the main, occurs when older people with suppressed immune response or other underlying illness are infected. For the vast majority of people who do get COVID-19, the symptoms are akin to a bad cold or the common flu—unpleasant to be sure, but no reason for hysteria.

Throughout almost all reporting on COVID-19, there is a striking lack of context. Any facts or percentages that would indicate the very very low probability of contracting the illness and the even lower probability of dying from it are rarely in evidence. For example, the common flu kills between 300,000 and 600,000 people worldwide every year—again, most are elderly. That's a lot of deaths, but the worldwide population is over 7 billion people. That means that about 0.002 percent of the world's population dies of the flu each year. That's troubling, but it's also a very, very small percentage.

Joel Pollack discusses a more serious viral outbreak, SARS:
Coronavirus is a familiar illness, and not as bad as others. It is from the SARS family — and less deadly. As Ha’aretz noted, “the mortality rate from the current disease ranges from 0.5 to 2 percent, and is significantly lower than the mortality rate from the 2002 SARS outbreak (9.5 percent) and much lower than the 2012 SARS outbreak (34.4 percent). It may even be close to the mortality rate from an ordinary flu outbreak in the United States.”
At the time of this writing, 60 people in the USA have been diagnosed with COVID-19. None have died. Even if that number were to increase by 2 or 3 orders or magnitude—to say 60,000, it would still represent 0.0025% of our population—a very small number. And of those 60,000, statistics tell us that 600 to 1200 people would die. To put that death rate in perspective ... every day 110 people die in automobile accidents. COVID 19 take 14 days to show symptoms. During that time, 1540 people have died in cars.

None of this says that caution is unjustified or that common sense measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 should not be taken. But when there are runs on face masks, bottled water, and food in states far removed from even one case of COVID-19, someone in leadership ought to suggest calm.

Instead we see the encouragement (inadvertent or otherwise) of hysteria, cultivated by the media and then seized on by others who have an agenda. For example, the Democrats have suggested that the Donald Trump is somehow to blame for 60 cases of the illness or that his administration is somehow unprepared to handle an outbreak when only 60 people currently have the illness and 59 of them will recover without incident. A predictable "whistleblower" has emerged telling us that the CDC doesn't know what they're doing or is unprepared or is underfunded or ... you know the drill. The intent is to frighten, and it succeeds. The result is near-panic by some, bad decisions by others, and a general feeling of unease. Everyone really does need to take a deep cleansing breath. Don't worry, it's unlikely that you catch COVID-19 as a result.

UPDATE 02/29/2020):

It looks like others are finally beginning to come around to the position espoused in this blog post. Holman Jenkins, Jr. writes:
To optimize the outcome of this difficult situation—neither overkill nor underkill—the crux will be giving the American people an accurate picture of the risks so they can accurately judge the costs they should be willing to bear to reduce those risks.
The real problem is that the mainstream media is just not providing an "accurate picture." Their reporting is irresponsible and it's dangerous. It's also, in its own way fake news, because it omits context and is intended to illicit a fear reaction. Jenkins continues:
Just how deadly is Covid-19 compared with the flu, which kills about 0.16% of its victims (including 125 children so far this season)? On Tuesday, the World Health Organization’s Bruce Aylward, having returned from a painstakingly negotiated visit to Wuhan, seemed to argue for accepting the Chinese figure of roughly 2%. But remember Stalin’s quip about the pope’s army: The WHO is dependent on China’s goodwill, has little power to coerce China, and understands how readily Beijing might cut off cooperation in a fit of neo-Maoism.

Mr. Aylward’s view is strongly disputed by many other experts. In the chaos of Wuhan, they suspect China missed thousands of mild cases while also letting dozens die who would have lived with proper advice and care. Numerous have been the press reports of elderly victims expiring at home after being turned away from hospitals.

Here’s my guess (and it’s just a guess): Once authorities in the U.S. start looking seriously for domestic Covid-19, they are bound to find it. The pillorying of California for not detecting its case sooner is really just evidence of how slow the media has been to grasp the Covid-19 challenge. Which of the million-plus people who come down with flu symptoms each week should be given the expensive, hard-to-obtain test? Which of the thousands who check into hospitals with generic breathing difficulties?

At the same time, America is entering the final month of peak flu season. This year’s has already been only about two-thirds as deadly as the 2017-18 season, in which 79,400 died.
Read the number in the last sentence again. 79,400 US residents have died THIS PAST YEAR from common flu, yet there has been no panic and no hysteria regarding that harsh reality. But one American (latest figures) has died from COVID-19 and hysteria reigns. Incredible.