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COVID-19: The numbers don’t warrant the response

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Editor’s note: This article takes a contrarian view to the fear mongering promoted by mainstream media sources. If you want to be fearful, please stop reading this and check out the coronavirus updates at CNN.

If you have seen any news reports in the past 14 days, they have likely been all about COVID-19. The 24/7 news coverage of this coronavirus illness has led to panicked buying and now entire states are ordering people to stay home.

As of this moment, there are 31 stories on the top section of the Fox News home page, and 28 of them pertain to coronavirus, two refer to Tom Brady and one to Kenny Rodgers.

There are a lot of viruses that should scare the pants off people, like Ebola or hemorrhagic fever, but there are others that are nothing more than a bad cold for the vast majority of people who will be infected. COVID-19 is just that.

What I would like to do is offer some reassurance by putting the situation in perspective. As someone who has worked as a journalist for several decades, I know how the system works to sensationalize the news.

It starts whenever the media grabs hold of an issue and begins reporting countless projections. They do this every year with major storms.

If the National Weather Service suggests a storm could drop 1 to 29 inches of snow, the media will lead with stories saying a major blizzard is expected to dump nearly feet of snow in an area. If the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts there will be 14 named storms in a season and the average is 12, the media will report that officials expect significantly more hurricanes in the months ahead.

Headlines draw attention

It’s the headlines that draw attention to the story. You see this at shopping center checkouts with the wacky headlines on gossip tabloids, but all media organizations seek to sensationalize information. Why? Because you are more likely to buy a publication and read the story after a headline draws you in.

With online news, you are more likely to come back for updates if the organization can keep you fearful and panicked. The more traffic, the more money they make from ads displayed by the stories.

That is exactly what is happening with the coronavirus issue.

Even conservative news outlets are guilty of spreading this type of hype. Take a recent headline in DISRN, “34-year-old California man dies from coronavirus after visiting Disney World.”

If all you do is scan headlines, you are left with the impression that a healthy millennial male caught a deadly virus at Disney World. Yet, when you read the story, you get a completely different impression:

  • The man was already a high-risk patient.
  • He had a history of asthma and bronchitis.
  • He had surgery for cancer in 2016.
  • He and his family flew to Orlando for a work conference.
  • While there, they visited Disney World for two days.

There is no evidence regarding where he contracted the illness. He could have caught it on a plane, at the conference, in a cab or wherever they were staying. Yet, the media wanted to give the impression people could die just by visiting Disney World.

In fact, the TMZ article to which DISRN linked ends with this ominous statement, “The CDC now says young people can also be at grave risk … and this underscores the danger.”

Because one middle-age man with a compromised immune system contracts an illness and dies; therefore, the media wants to remind all “young people” they are at “grave risk” of experiencing the same thing. It’s nonsense.

Cycle of hysteria

The media whips people into such a panic that the public demands government “do something,” although people don’t have any idea what should be done.

So, government “does something” by imposing restrictions or declaring an “emergency.” That gives people the impression that government is in control and responding to protect everyone.

However, the media then reports the government action as “further proof” of a pending disaster, which forces the public to demand even more action be taken. Governments at all levels are well known for their ability to take advantage of a crisis to get more funding, hire more staff and grab more power or authority.

Soon, we’re all caught up in an endless cycle of doom-and-gloom hype.

We saw this after 9/11 when the public demanded government “do something” to make sure that another airline couldn’t be hijacked and, 20 years later, we still have the Transportation Security Administration forcing absolutely everyone to empty their pockets and take off articles of clothing before boarding a plane. Frisking grandma does nothing to ensure safety.

After 9/11, there is no doubt in my mind that passengers would never allow someone to try to hijack a plane again. Simply installing bullet-proof, reinforced doors would have prevented any incursion to the cockpit, but we still can’t form a line to use the bathroom at the front of the plane.

Americans have faced many media-hyped “emergencies” in the past. Take these for example:

Y2K in 1999

I am old enough to remember the hype surrounding Y2K, or the Year 2000, when computers all over the world were supposed to lock up and cause elevators to drop, planes to crash, banks to erase account balances, etc.

I knew enough about computers to know it was plausible. However, as soon as businesses learned of that potential as well, they hired programmers to fix the problem months, if not years in advance.

But, it still didn’t ease the fears of millions of hysterical Americans who bought generators, guns, stockpiled skids of food and built underground shelters to protect themselves from the millions of starving people they thought would break into their homes.

When Jan. 1, 2000, rolled around and not one of the gloomy predictions took place, the entire country quickly forgot why it was worried in the first place. The media moved on to give us something else to worry about.

Anthrax in 2001

A few weeks after 9/11, a series of envelopes laced with anthrax bacterium typically found naturally in soil arrived at media and government offices.

After several people died and fearing it was bioterrorism, post offices nationwide shut down as did all government offices for several weeks. Some people started wearing protective masks wherever they went.

Later, it was determined that a disgruntled federal scientist had initiated the scare and he killed himself before he could be brought to justice.

SARS in 2003

In 2002 and 2003, the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) started in southern China and quickly spread to 29 countries where 8,096 individuals were infected and 774 died.

It garnered a significant amount of media attention and people started expecting the worst. Panic ensued as well.

The University of California barred students from Asia. The media and government overreacted to the point one person wrote this to the Los Angeles Times:

“Nothing can better document society’s lack of proportion and perspective than the present alarm about SARS. Without minimizing its seriousness and the threat it may pose to human health, the near panic and the economic disruptions are completely out of proportion to its importance.

“Malaria infects millions in Africa, India, Southeast Asia and parts of South America year after year, devastating their people and the local economies. Three thousand children die every day in Africa alone, and the world does not even notice.”

Hmmmmm.

H1N1 Bird Flu in 2009

Starting in April 2009 and ending a year later, a total of 60,800,000 Americans became ill with a new strain of the H1N1 virus.

A total of 274,304 people were hospitalized and 12,469 people died. This was also considered a novel or unique virus strain — just like COVID-19.

Despite initial guidance by CDC that schools close for two weeks, only a total of 726 schools shut down in response. Then, in August of that year, the CDC recommended that schools not be closed, but rather keep sick kids out of classrooms instead.

In October 2009, six months after the outbreak was identified, President Barrack Obama declared a national emergency that gave doctors and public health agencies permission to bypass some federal rules in responding to the illness.

Festivals and community activities were cancelled in response to the rising numbers, but it was nothing like we are seeing in 2020.

Other diseases that panicked Americans over the years included:

  • West Nile virus in 2002
  • E. coli in 2006
  • Zika virus in 2016
  • Salmonella poisoning in 2019 that infected 1,134 people and killed two after contact with backyard poultry.
  • Romaine lettuce E. coli scare in 2018 when the government advised the destruction of all romaine lettuce in homes, restaurants and grocery stores nationwide after just 43 people became ill and one person died. Later, the source of the outbreak was found to be one farm in Arizona.

There’s a meme circulating on Facebook that puts it all in perspective. It says, “Not to brag, but I’ve already survived 10 end-of-the-world events.”  I know I have.

How does COVID compare?

I hear all the time that COVID-19 is not the flu. People say it is entirely different because it is unlike any disease we have ever seen before on earth and nobody has immunity.

Except they really do.

Of course, they do. If there was no immunity, it would literally wipe out every living being on the planet. COVID-19 did not arrive by a meteor strike bringing a completely unknown virus of unknown origin to earth.

Coronavirus was first identified in 1965. Within 30 years of discovery, a number of additional strains were uncovered.

In fact, research showed that coronavirus infections contributed to 35 percent of viral respiratory activity during infections, and 15 percent of all adult colds are produced by coronaviruses, according to the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal.

As with every other virus, people get sick and some die, but most recover. When they do, their bodies build immunity to the virus.

If coronavirus has been around for almost 55 years, and it plays a role in 15 percent of adult colds, chances are extraordinarily high that most people have developed some immunity to coronavirus-related illnesses.

When people talk about COVID-19, they are referring to the SARS-CoV-2 strain of the virus that was first identified in China in 2019 and has since spread to 168 countries in a little more than 90 days.

I am not an epidemiologist, but for a specific illness to pop up in 168 countries in 90 days probably means that the virus was already present in a number of places, but doctors didn’t have the ability to test a patient to confirm he or she had that specific virus.

Similar symptoms

If we are told repeatedly that COVID-19 is not the flu in any way, then why are the symptoms surprisingly similar?

Source: Mayo Clinic
*Source: Business Insider
**Source: Harvard Medical School
***Source: Forbes

According to the World Heath organization, most people (about 80%) recover from COVID-19 without needing any special treatment.                                              

That means that only 20 percent of cases would ever likely need a doctor, which means fewer than that would be hospitalized and even less would likely die.

In fact, CNN reported this on March 20: “The good news: more than 80% experienced only mild symptoms. Almost 14% were classed as severe cases, while the condition of almost 5% was determined to be critical.”

Can you die?

It is a virus, so yes people can die. But is unlikely COVID-19 will be fatal for most people. Not even close.

Let’s look at other causes of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control in 2017 (the most recent available):

  • Heart disease = 647,457
  • Cancer = 599,108
  • Accidents = 169,939
  • Chronic respiratory disease = 160,201
  • Stroke = 146,383
  • Alzheimer’s = 121,404
  • Diabetes = 83,564
  • Flu and pneumonia = 55,672
  • Suicide = 47,173
  • COVID-19 = 163 as of March 19, 2020

In 2018, about 228 million people were killed by mosquitoes when they contracted malaria, and 405,000 people died.

The Wilderness Medical Society reports that dogs bite more than 4 million people every year, of which 6,000 to 13,000 are hospitalized and an average of 19 people die.

According to the FBI, humans intentionally killed other humans 16,214 times in 2018, and that was a decrease of 6.2 percent from the year before.

An interesting thing about murders is that many of the states with the highest rates (California, Florida, Illinois and Pennsylvania) are also those that have ordered shut downs for COVID-19.

Lightning kills 24,000 people every year and causes more than a quarter million injuries.

Coronavirus, on the other hand, has killed 13,301 people WORLDWIDE after 90 days, according to John Hopkins University, and 163 people in the United States, according to independent journalist Sharyl Atkinson. These statistics were current as of 9:30 p.m. Central time on March 21, 2020.

However, in response to the COVID-19 threat, we have

  • Cancelled all sports
  • Shuttered many businesses
  • Closed all schools
  • Closed borders
  • Signed orders preventing people from being within 6 feet of each other
  • Eliminated trillions of dollars in value from publicly-traded companies
  • Forced tens of millions of people out of jobs

In my opinion, the COVID-19 numbers do not justify such harsh reactions.

Odds of catching

As of March 21, 2020, according to John Hopkins University, there are currently 306,395 confirmed cases WORLDWIDE and 25,493 people have contracted the illness in the United States. Both numbers will rise as more people are tested.

Let’s run the math on these numbers:

  • 306,395 cases in a world population of 7.5 billion means that the chance of catching it is 0.004%.
  • 25,493 cases in America means the chances of catching it are still 0.0088%, or 9 thousandths of 1 percent.
  • 13,031 people have died WORLDWIDE, meaning that your chances of dying from the illness is 0.0002%
  • 163 people have died in America, making it about 0.00005% or 1:2,006,135.
  • The odds of being hit by lightning somewhere in the world is about 1:31,250.

‘Just one life’

It sounds so noble to hear people say, “Yeah, it’s a little inconvenient, but if we can save just one life, we should be willing to do whatever it takes.”

It’s also one of the most foolish statements someone could utter. Why? Because birth is a fatal disease. There is no way anyone is getting off this planet alive.

I invested some time a few years ago into researching actuary tables and came to the inescapable conclusion that for men like me who were born in August 1960, the chance of death was 100 percent.

But let’s take the “just one life” rhetoric to its illogical conclusion. If saving one life is paramount to the point of greatly inconveniencing everyone else and tanking the economy, then should we allow the use of automobiles?

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 36,560 people die each year in America – or about 10 per day.

If it can save just one life, should we allow smoking, drinking or even allow people to walk? After all, 6,227 people died while walking in the United States in 2018.

So, let’s just wrap everyone in bubble wrap, pop them in a chair and hand them a TV remote. Unfortunately, 128,000 people are still hospitalized with food poisoning annually, and about 3,000 die from what they eat.

Bottom line

If you are in relatively good heath, COVID-19 will not impact you in any way. If you do catch it, you might experience flu-like symptoms for a week or so.  But, you will not die.

The responses to COVID-19 raise even more questions, and I’ll explore those in a later article.

David Heymann, former executive director of communicable diseases at the World Health Organization, made an interesting observation in a New York Times editorial about the 2003 SARS outbreak on March 14, 2013. He wrote, “When it comes to controlling global outbreaks such as these, we must continue to let evidence speak louder than politics.”

In my opinion, the numbers pertaining to COVID-19 do not justify or warrant crashing the global economy.

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Greg Gerber

A native of Wisconsin who moved to Arizona in 2009, Greg Gerber is a DODO -- Dad of Daughters Only -- to three grown daughters. He worked as a journalist for many years before pursuing a career as a faith-based writer, author, coach and speaker. Greg is the author of Pornocide: How Lust is Killing Your Faith, Stealing Your Joy and Destroying Your Life.

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8 Comments

  1. Greg, lost you for a bit after your sponsors ran you off but found an article on RV Travel that brought me back to this article.

    1. Thanks Kelly. I still get drawn back to writing about the RV and outdoor hospitality industries every now and then, but I enjoy this type of writing even more.

      GREG GERBER

  2. Loved this article. This is the most comprehensive counterpoint I have read on the mass hysteria. I have thought a lot of these things however you get attacked even suggesting some of these ideas.

    1. Thank you, John. I am glad you liked the article. I tried to put it in perspective so people would have an alternative to doom-and-gloom. Unfortunately, some folks want to feel panicked and they take comfort in that. Anything that challenges that feeling will meet with some resistance. Hopefully, it all ends soon.

      GREG GERBER

  3. Still hold your position? Have you learned more about how pandemics work yet? I think you should be embarrassed that you wrote this. Comparing a viral pandemic to flu, CV disease etc is flawed for many reasons.

    1. I sure have learned a lot, Reuben. I have learned the government considers an illness infecting, as of this moment, 69,210 people in the United States and causing 1,046 deaths to be far more dangerous than the annual flu, which infected 49 million Americans that required 960,000 hospitalizations and killed 79,000 people during the 2017-2018 flu season, according to the Centers of Disease Control.

      I have also learned that people and the media will now demand that world governments shut down society every time an illness infects less than 500,000 people worldwide, for which 80 percent will not require hospitalization.

      This has been an eye-opening experience for me.

      Since you expressed interest in knowing more about how a viral pandemic compares to the flu, you might find this media report interesting:

      https://sharylattkisson.com/2020/03/coronavirus-vs-flu-the-actual-stats/

      I know the graph comparing COVID-19 to the flu and the cold was much better developed than mine.

      GREG GERBER

      1. But you are trying to compare flu statistics from a previous season that is over. Those figures are fixed. Flu statistics per season are over much longer period (6 months) than COVID-19 has been in the US thus far. Flu is not COVID-19. Transmission risk and morality rates (thus far) are different. Different problems require different responses/solutions. Since you wrote your reply this morning, 17k more cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed. Yesterday 11k new cases confirmed. Tomorrow? Next week? This is coupled with woefully inadequate testing levels, which means the actual number of cases could be 10 times higher than reported. The problem with your article is the flawed comparison between fixed figures (flu) and moving figures (COVID-19). The time to make those comparisons is when the pandemic is over and not as it’s just starting. If your article encourages people to not respond properly to this pandemic then it has the potential to directly contribute to the death toll. We are not panicking. We are being responsible.

        1. Reuben,

          This article does absolutely nothing to encourage people to violate quarantine, to ignore government restrictions, to not wash their hands or to respond improperly in any way.

          What it does is encourage people to stop freaking out, to stop being scared to death by media hype, and to recognize the government’s response as a way for it to gain more money, power and control. Has that not already played out with the “stimulus” pork package?

          Is it really responsible of government and media to promote the idea that 56 percent of California (nearly 22 million people) alone will be infected by this illness in eight weeks when no other country in the world even came close to those figures?

          In Italy, the ground zero of Europe, the illness has infected 80,589 people so far, or 0.00133 percent of the population. In China, the ground zero of Asia, the illness has infected 81,782 people, or 0.0059 percent of its population. Both of those countries have been dealing with COVID-19 for more than eight weeks. We have a very long way to go to get to 1 percent, let alone 56 percent.

          I included flu statistics are to show people that we have had similar issues in the past — larger in fact — but we didn’t feel the need to blow up the economy in response.

          I included the flu symptoms to calm people down as to the seriousness of the infection, if they manage to catch it at all. Because, as the CDC has reported often, 80 percent of all people who encounter COVID-19 will not even require medical attention and, despite what you may believe, the symptoms to flu are nearly identical.

          The response to COVID-19 will go down as the biggest overreaction the world has ever seen. And that is where the greatest risk lies. Just like weather reporters swaying in the strong winds as people walk calmly behind them, the next time a real problem erupts, more people are going to be even more skeptical of official pronouncements.

          Unfortunately, because so many people refuse to think for themselves and look at the issue objectively, what you are seeing transpose before your very eyes, is likely the new normal for reacting to any kind of infectious illness. Every response going forward will be compared to what government did with COVID-19.

          GREG GERBER

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