I’ve been to countless Black Friday events and they don’t hold a candle to what I witnessed and experienced during a shopping trip to Costco last weekend. Shelves were emptied, customers swarmed the bottled water and toilet paper aisles picking them clean almost instantly, and at one point I couldn’t move my cart in any direction at all as a stampede of people pushed my wife and I forward toward the checkout lines.
I knew everyone around me was panicking because of coronavirus, but my young family of six isn’t dreading the disease at all. We just want to get it over with.
Since the virus was first discovered in China at the close of 2019, news headlines have unfolded like jump-scare scenes in a horror film: “You’re Likely to Get the Coronavirus,” “Diamond Princess crew ‘desperate for help’ as virus tightens grip,” “Coronavirus Is Declared a Global Health Emergency,” “Chicago man is first US case of person-to-person Coronavirus spread,” “Here Comes the Coronavirus Pandemic,” “Prepare for the worst,” and so on.
And for what? According to the New York Times, the death rate of the coronavirus everywhere throughout China outside of Hubei Province, where the disease originated, is just 0.4% — and “the true fatality rate could be even lower” because the majority of infected people probably don’t even know they have it since they don’t “show any symptoms at all.”
Conversely, Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center recently told USA Today that coronavirus is just a “blip on the horizon” and a “trivial risk” compared to the flu. The Centers for Disease Control confirmed that the flu killed “an estimated 80,000 Americans” just two winters ago — not to mention the 646,000 people who die every year from it worldwide — without nary a headline at all. What’s more, everyone who gets the flu each season feels like they have the flu, whereas “more than 80% of coronavirus infections are pretty mild,” and “no more severe than the common cold,” according to NPR. One article in The New York Times recently said that for the majority of coronavirus victims, the symptoms go “unrecognized” and “could be just as small as a sore throat” and in “one or two days, it’s gone.”
Another important distinction about coronavirus is that it affects each age group very differently. According to NPR, the number of children who have become infected with coronavirus is “remarkably low,” with many infected children “developing no symptoms at all.” And BBC reported that of the 3,000-plus coronavirus deaths so far, only eight of them have occurred in people under 30 — none at all in children age 10 and under. In fact, more than 80% of all coronavirus deaths have occurred in persons 60 years and older, frequently as a result of preexisting heart conditions.
Which brings me to why my family isn’t afraid of this virus and why we want to get it over with instead of prolonging the inevitable: Per The New York Times, “Several medical experts have said that those who have been infected with the coronavirus will not become infected again, as their bodies will produce antibodies that provide immunity.” Dr. Lu Hongzhou told Beijing News that “As long as the virus doesn’t evolve, there is no chance of being infected again.”
In spite of this information, many are still treating this virus like it’s some kind of biblical plague. That’s especially surprising considering how many times we’ve recently been here before. Zika virus, swine flu, Ebola, MERS and SARS all had their day in the media spotlight, all caused a global panic, and all but one of those diseases are still alive and well today. In every case mankind eventually did what we always do: We accepted each new reality and we moved on.
That’s already starting to happen where all of this began as the number of new coronavirus cases in China has dropped significantly, and continues to drop every day. America — and the rest of the world — will get there eventually as well, but not before things get a little bit worse here first.
In the meantime I’ll remain flabbergasted by the way so many overreact to a virus that kills so few, doesn’t harm our young and feels like nothing more than the common cold — when it feels like anything at all — for more than 80% of its victims.
Coronavirus may never actually impact my family at all, but if it ever does I hope it happens sooner rather than later because the drip-drip-drip of daily anticipation and ensuing madness is going to do far more damage in the long run.
Daryl Austin is a writer based in Utah.