A resilient people overcoming SARS, the Y2K bug, acid rain, and killer bees confronts yet another existential challenge in the Wuhan coronavirus. The response to this crisis resembles the resolute reaction to the 1976 swine-flu epidemic, which killed but one soldier at Fort Dix but whose immunization campaign claimed 25 lives and paralyzed many more.
That which does not kill us makes us dumber.
Symptoms of the coronavirus abroad include sneezing, coughing, fever, and breathing difficulties. Here in the United States, the disease, apparently mutating, displays different symptoms. They include exaggeration, panic, and overreaction.
San Francisco declared a coronavirus state of emergency despite not a single confirmed case among the city’s residents. Why not include yellow fever and polio in the state of emergency just to stay on the safe side?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released an infographic depicting 36 styles of facial hairdos and hairdonts. It gave its medical imprimatur to the Soul Patch and Hitler Mustache, which it called the Toothbrush Mustache. The Fu Manchu, Van Dyke, and Mutton Chops did not win the CDC’s seal of approval because they might break the seal of a respirator or mask offering coronavirus protection.
In wake of the CDC’s Weirdo-Beardo Protocol, one pines for those more level-headed days when government officials merely issued Orange Alerts at whim and strong-armed lunch ladies into renaming French Fries “Freedom Fries.”
Currently, at least outside of China, the disease primarily afflicts politicians and journalists. The symptoms grow worse for those in front of a camera or microphone, and especially bad for those — gulp — touching a keyboard. Stock holders appear most greatly plagued by the virus.
The latest CDC update shows just 14 cases in the United States atop 45 cases among repatriating Americans unfortunate enough to cruise on the Diamond Princess ship or visit Wuhan itself. In other words, the disease kneecapping the stock market and shutting down a Facebook conference in California in May afflicts 0.0000042 percent of the American population. The number of Americans killed by the Wuhan coronavirus falls even below that minuscule fraction to zero.
One cannot even call the coronavirus endemic to any area in the United States. Yet, speakers affix “epidemic” and even “pandemic” to coronavirus even though two countries, China and Korea, house 99 percent of cases. In just three other countries, Japan, Italy, and Iran, do cases reach into the triple digits.
“As of Feb. 26, 2020, the flu is showing much more of an impact on Americans than COVID-19,” Dr. Lisa Lockerd Maragakis, the senior director of infection prevention at Johns Hopkins, points out. She estimates coronavirus deaths at 2,770 worldwide and “0 deaths in the U.S., as of Feb. 26, 2020.” On the other hand, she writes that the flu causes between “291,000 to 646,000 deaths worldwide” and “12,000 to 61,000 deaths in the U.S.” annually.
Hers reads like the voice of science, soberly using facts and figures throw water rather than gasoline on the flames. Sure, even the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918, which boasted a kill percentage eerily close to the coronavirus’s 2.5 percent, started with just a few cases. And it is likely more Americans acquire this condition and that some die from it. But treating every bug that catches on somewhere in the world as the end of the world does much harm and little good. Panic is not preparedness.
People in positions of responsibility act so irresponsibly regarding public health matters precisely because they wish for the public to not hold them responsible. If coronavirus does not kill thousands of Americans, they can claim their warnings defeated the disease. If coronavirus does kill thousands of Americans, they can say they told us so. It’s a win-win for them.
But this disease of the bureaucrat, call it CYA, stokes fear rather than instills calm. It’s terribly reckless, as the 2,000-point decline in the Dow Jones Industrial Average over the last week indicates. Whole industries, including transportation and tourism, suffer not because of prudence but because of hysteria. Zero American deaths and 14 cases within our borders do not justify turning the country into the Animal House parade scene after the Deathmobile’s arrival.
The monsters are due on Maple Street. Coronavirus? Not yet.
Scientists hope to complete a vaccine for coronavirus sometime next year. No such bullishness greets the progress on a cure for stupidity.