WASHINGTON: Coronavirus worries me. My parents are in their 80s. The reported mortality rate in their age group is almost 15 percent. We have friends in their 70s, an age group that dies from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, at a rate of 8 percent.
Most of those deaths occur in people with other underlying health problems. For people with cardiovascular disease, the death rate is reported at 10.5 percent, and for people with diabetes, 7.3 percent. If you are under 50 and in good health, the death rate is a fraction of a percent, about the same as seasonal flu.
Good news: Coronavirus probably won’t kill you
The problem with COVID-19 isn’t that it’s spectacularly lethal because it isn’t. The problem is that it may be so easily spread. If it becomes as common as the common cold, the global death toll could be vast, upwards of 100 million. But in the vast scheme of things that make life dangerous, coronavirus isn’t that bad.
But there’s a second problem.
Coronavirus makes people stupid, apparently even if they’ve never been infected.
Along with a potential coronavirus pandemic, we’re experiencing a pandemic of stupidity.
Bad news: Coronavirus Stupidity might kill you
A survey last week found that 38 percent of American beer drinkers won’t drink Corona beer under any circumstances. Some of them may not drink it because they don’t like it; only 4 percent of Corona beer drinkers said they’ll stop drinking it.
However, 14 percent said they’ll avoid drinking it in pubic places, and 16 percent of beer drinkers admitted confusion about the relationship between Corona beer and coronavirus. There has been a surge in internet searches for “corona beer virus”. (‘Corona Beer Virus?’ The Global Epidemic Is Taking a Real-Life Toll on the Beverage)
Internet news sites are full of pictures of abandoned public spaces, including the Colosseum in Rome and subway trains in Tokyo. The few souls seen wandering through these dead spaces are protected by surgical masks. In some Chinese cities, the lack of a face mask can get you arrested, and in Dallas, it can leave you barred from attending a concert.
Science: You don’t need a facemask, but someone wants you to wear one anyway
Yet the scientific consensus on the subject says that regular surgical masks offer no protection from the coronavirus, nor do they protect others from you if you’re infected. An N95 respirator offers some protection, but only if worn properly. It isn’t being recommended for public use, first because most people don’t wear them properly, and second because they can make breathing more difficult. Few people can wear them for long without taking them off for a breath of fresh air.
And yet, there are lines to buy surgical masks and respirators in cities all over Asia, and a quick check of pharmacies in the Seattle area revealed that many stores have sold out.
It’s a well-known phenomenon that hurricanes make people hungry for omelets and cause diarrhea; before a major storm makes landfall, supermarkets sell out of eggs, milk and toilet paper. It seems that people fear that coronavirus will do the same thing.
However, the CDC does not report diarrhea as a symptom of COVID-19, and neither chickens nor cows are known to be affected by the virus.
A pandemic of fraud and price gouging?
Hand sanitizer is also selling out. Amazon sellers, faced with a surge in demand for antibacterial and sanitizing products, have been reported to be selling Purell hand sanitizer for $199 for a four-pack.
Amazon reports removing more than a million items for misleading claims about their anti-viral properties or for price gouging. Remember that a little hand sanitizer goes a long way, and you probably don’t need four bottles of Purell to get you through this crisis. Washing your hands is a low-cost alternative.
Face masks, but not condoms?
There are currently 37.9 million people in the world living with HIV; another 32 million have died from it, 770,000 of them in 2018 alone. Condom use has been found to reduce the rate of HIV transmission by 90 to 95 percent. They are a proven and effective technology, and they’re free on college campuses and in health clinics around the country.
And yet, only a third of sexually active American men use them. The rate is lower in some Asian countries where people vigorously try to protect themselves from coronavirus.
The fear of coronavirus infection doesn’t seem as widespread in the U.S. as in some other countries, especially those with higher infection rates.
If the predicted wave of infections does come, fear will come with it. Virologists are working hard on a vaccine, but there will almost certainly be none available on a large scale this year.
Viruses are real, and vaccines help prevent disease
And if one is developed, we can be certain that Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., won’t be using it or insisting that any of his aged relatives receive it.
Kennedy is a prominent voice in the anti-vaxxing community. His Children’s Health Defense organization is one of two campaigns that pay for over half the anti-vax Facebook ads. His campaign is one of the slickest and most aggressive spreaders of medical anti-science on the internet.
Anti-vaxxers surely have nothing to fear from Coronavirus.
It’s been far less destructive than measles, which in 2018 killed 140,000 people around the world and against which they refuse to vaccinate their children. In the 1980s, 1,000 children died every year in the U.S. from “invasive Hib”, an aggressive strain of meningitis. A vaccine against it was introduced in 1987, and now there are only 40 cases diagnosed per year.
Anti-vaxxers are unimpressed with such success.
Information and perspective, good medicine
It is a gross exaggeration to say that coronavirus has unleashed a pandemic of stupidity. That pandemic has been with us always. The German philosopher-poet Friedrich Schiller wrote in 1801 in his play, The Maid of Orleans, Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens; “against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.”
Beauty is fleeting; stupid is forever.
There are good reasons to worry about a coronavirus pandemic. The death rate isn’t alarming for the young and the healthy, but many of us have elderly loved ones and friends, and many of us have conditions that put us at greater risk. We should take sensible measures – wash your hands frequently and as kif you want to get rid of a bar stamp before your mother sees it. Don’t lick the religious shrines in Qom.
Don’t pay $50 for a bottle of Purell. A combination of aloe vera gel and alcohol will do the same if you want something more portable than soap and warm water, still the best defense.
Combine in a bowl:
⅔-cup rubbing alcohol (99% isopropyl alcohol)
⅓-cup aloe vera gel.
Stir. Decant into a clean soap or pump bottle.
— Maryn McKenna (@marynmck) March 2, 2020
Don’t mess with masks unless you’re a doctor treating patients or a tourist in China. And don’t panic if you have a cough and fever.
There’s no situation so bad that we can’t make it worse with panic. Panic takes the natural human tendency to stupidity and amplifies it ten-fold. Combine it with bad information, and it gets people killed.