COVID-19 – Reasons Not to Panic

I have followed the new coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak closely for some time now. Rising is making contingency plans for various situations and we will continue to monitor the situation.

China would not take the draconian actions they did in Wuhan if this was not serious. This appears to be a real outbreak with some serious health risks, but having lived through a lifetime of overplayed media scares, I’m digging into the data myself before becoming too panicked.

This article on the 5 Reasons Not to Panic about COVID-19 has some good facts and can put things into perspective. I agree and disagree with some of their points and conclusions, but it is worth a read.  As a summary, I’m recapping the article’s main points with some comments below.

1.      The number of cases in China is already falling significantly.

This is great news if true but, due to the source of the data being communist China, and that they are very focused on getting their economy back on track, it is possible the new data is not fully accurate. They also took severe virus actions, including pulling anyone with a temperature out of the streets or homes and putting them into dedicated facilities to handle the outbreak or locking people into their homes. These are not realistically going to happen in western societies. Still, it appears to be good news.

2.      The vast majority of cases are mild, and the death rate is likely lower than reported.

In one very large study, 81% of cases were mild, another 14% were severe (characterized by difficulty breathing), and 5% were critical. Overall, the death rate was 2.3% of those who tested positive. Death rates are dropping as care improves. Smokers are severely hit by coronavirus strains and a very large percentage of the Chinese male population smokes. For Chinese patients whose symptoms started after February 1st, the death rate is just 0.7%. (For comparison, the U.S. death rate from 2019-20’s annual flu outbreak is between .06% to 0.1%. SARS, another coronavirus with similarities to COVID-19, had a death rate of 9.6%.) The death rate will be even lower, as very mild cases of COVID-19 that resemble a common cold have gone unreported.

3.      Only one out of every 1,000 people in Hubei Province has contracted COVID-19.

There have been 66,907 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in China’s Hubei Province, where the outbreak began in December. That sounds like a lot, but keep in mind that the population of Hubei is 59,170,000. With this sort of population density, it’s a positive sign that just roughly 1 in 1000 of the population has caught COVID-19 virus. Given the population density in most other countries is significantly lower than in China, we can expect that the coronavirus will have a much harder time spreading in much of the world.

4.      There have been no reported deaths in young children.

This is the best news to me. There still have been no fatalities in children under the age of nine, with almost all infected simply experiencing cold-like symptoms. Moreover, only 2.4% of cases of tested cases are in individuals under the age of 18. Kids and teenagers have been surprisingly resistant to the virus. The death rate for people aged 10 to 39 currently stands at just 0.2 %. Not much different from the flu.

Those genuinely at risk from COVID-19 are the elderly. Those tested who were aged 80 and up have a 14.8% to 21.9% chance of dying if infected.  Nursing homes are seeing outbreaks and severe issues.

5.      The world already survived another pandemic just 10 years ago.

H1N1, more commonly known as Swine Flu, began in early 2009 and lasted through late 2010. Between April 2009 and April 2010, there were approximately 60.8 million cases, 274,304 hospitalizations, and 12,469 deaths in the U.S. alone.Globally, it likely infected between 700 million and 1.4 billion people, resulting in 150,000 to 575,000 fatalities. While this loss of life was tragic, more than a decade later, many scarcely remember Swine Flu. I did not realize the numbers were even close to this large. As a percentage of the population, it was not large at all. The same will likely happen with COVID-19.

A few other points from outside this article:

In Iran, they made some bad decisions that exacerbated the spread.  Politics may have played a role in the government’s handling of the health crisis. The outbreak coincided with two major milestones—the anniversary of Iran’s revolution on February 11th and the parliamentary election on February 21st. “The government didn’t want to acknowledge that they had a new coronavirus outbreak because they feared it would impact participation in these two events,” said Kamiar Alaei, an Iranian health-policy expert. “So for weeks there was complete silence.”

Smokers are definitely hit harder by other coronavirus strains and that will likely be the case with this one. The higher male smoking rate, and higher male death rate in China appear to be correlated.  WebMD has documented this issue, as have other sources. The numbers are not dramatic outside of smokers, the elderly, and those with severe comorbidities.

The flu does not cause panic because it has been around our whole lives, but it would sound catastrophic if the media covered it as intensely as COVID-19. Per the CDC, the 2019-2020 influenza season has seen an estimated 32 million cases of flu in the United States alone (up to late Feb 2020) with an estimated 310,000 hospitalizations and 18,000 deaths. The death toll includes 125 children. The flu numbers always help me put the “latest scare” numbers into perspective.

Coronavirus strains are nothing new. Lysol and other disinfectants claim to kill the coronavirus on their packaging and have for years. Only the strain COVID-19 is something new.  Attached is an article with products that may work on the virus. It’s also important to note that “antibacterial” is not the phrase you are looking for. Look for “virucidals” or “anti-viral” kill claims. Then, look for coronavirus at a minimum, and ideally SARS and MERS (the closest types to COVID-19).

I would also take some precautions outside of just antivirals and hand washing. I would keep a supply of non-perishables and essentials to last a few weeks should our supply chain be impacted. Based on the data I have seen thus far, I am more worried about the potential for panic and the resulting economic damage.

Stay safe, stay strong!