Coronavirus Update; March 8, 2020

David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP, FACLM
LinkedIn
There’s no way to watch the COVID-19 drama unfold and not be concerned/anxious (as if we needed another reason for anxiety these days!).
Coronavirus statistics as of 3/8/20: 107,491 cases and 3,652 deaths

My primary point early on- here – was that we exaggerate the ‘new and shiny’ risk relative to more familiar perils. That remains true of COVID-19 almost no matter how bad it gets. Diets, cars, guns, and flu- are and will be greater killers, by far. And climate change, ultimately, most of all- a calamity compounded by its pace. We are, it seems, much like those frogs in a pot. Heat the water fast, we hop out in a panic; heat it slowly, and we simply cook.

In China, the spread appears to be contained, or nearly so. The number of new cases is falling daily, despite total-to-date infections numbering over 80k. If spread were not contained, then each person infected would be infecting more, who would infect more, etc. Infectious spread tends to be exponential for that reason- but instead, there are many fewer new cases each day in China now: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/. What is not clear is how effective containment measures used in China may be adapted elsewhere without the attendant abuses of a heavy hand.

We still don’t know the actual death rate, because we still don’t know the number of mild cases going undetected; levels of testing remain fairly low. But from the numbers we have, the mortality toll does, indeed, appear alarmingly high- near 3%- so this bug is a bad actor. Deaths seem mostly to occur among the elderly and chronically ill, prone to high death rates from flu, too. Flu also tends to kill young children, a particularly devastating aspect of that disease. COVID-19 does not, thank goodness, seem to have that tendency.

The flu thus far this season has infected over 15 million (yes; 15,000,000) in the US alone, and killed 54 children so far. A total of up to 50,000 deaths is projected.

COVID-19 has infected fewer than 450 in the US as I write this, with fewer than 20 deaths to date, and as noted, mostly elderly people with chronic disease.

So…the coronavirus pandemic is worrisome, of course. Some of us will get this disease. However, unless we are ill and frail already, our chances of recovery are at least 97%, and possibly much better than that if the ‘denominator’ (the total number infected) is much greater than we realize.

Importantly, the fact remains that threats to us all greater by far hide in plain sight- evoking our relatively contemptuous disregard because of their familiarity. Were we to call the flu something different this year, and track its spread among millions in the US alone, and deaths among thousands- with the same rapt attention directed to the coronavirus- the level of panic would be hard to overstate. Instead, we don’t only ignore the flu- but many who could protect themselves with a safe vaccine don’t even bother- even while waiting for news about rushed development of a vaccine for the coronavirus.

And, of course, despite what we all know about ounces of prevention and pounds of cure, we routinely fail to invest in prevention, and instead- wait to react in the aftermath of catastrophe. We do that as individuals, ignoring risk factors for chronic diseases until after heart attack or stroke or diabetes; and we do that as a society.

Stay informed, stay aware, stay cautious- but do not panic, and please- don’t disrespect the long familiar.

-fin

This article was first published on LinkedIn.

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on google
Google+
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on pinterest
Pinterest