Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D.
I wrote my last column just a week before the country shut down because of the COVID-19 virus. In that column, titled "Relax," I outlined the very low death rate and how it appeared we were over-reacting to this virus because of media attention. Now, a month later, I stand by that position. Here is what we know:
*COVID-19 is exceedingly contagious - but, so is the flu.
*the death rate for COVID-19 is a bit higher than it appeared at first, but still only about 2%. That is a higher than the flu (.1%), but still very, very low.
*people are contagious before they know they have it - just like the measles.
*incessant news coverage of every new case has caused a panicking public to unnecessarily scramble for masks, toilet paper, and canned goods.
*during flu season, very few people feel the need to wear masks everywhere they go.
*this global shutdown has crippled a previously flourishing US economy.
*the $2.5 trillion stimulus divided evenly by about 300 million US citizens would be just over $7,000 each - this spending debacle was a political capitalization on a crisis in order to distribute money to pet projects and had little to do with the virus. And that is being generous with my math. According to the IRS, in 2018, there were about 155 million tax returns filed. By these terms we could all get around $14,000 if politicians actually wanted to help families (with our own money, I might add).
I have stopped watching the news because nearly all of the stories pertain to the virus, what celebrity has it, and what horrible things might happen. Among the most ridiculous teaser lines I heard on a news broadcast was, "Coming up next we'll talk to an actual survivor of the coronavirus!" Wow. An actual survivor? Like 98% of the people who get it?
Imagine if we followed anything like this - day after day, minute after minute. Did you know that magnetic north changes regularly? It not only changes regularly in strength, but also in position moving up to 50km per year. Some of you might know that, but I suspect most of you don't. Suppose the media tracked it meter by meter every minute of every day.
In addition, what if we were barraged with expert after expert who hypothesized all the terrible things that "could" happen. For example, without the magnetic field we would be exposed to solar radiation and it would basically kill the planet and everything on it. It would panic people who didn't understand it is a typical part of our existence.
That is what is happening here. Early on, self-proclaimed experts predicted hundreds of thousands being exposed and dying, but even as recently as two weeks ago, dire predictions for US deaths were cut from about 60,000 to 30,000. Relax. The media is creating an image of what is happening that is exaggerated.
I know we should take this seriously, but think of the difference between these two statements. "The death rate for COVID-19 is only about 2%." (Fact) Or, "The death rate for COVID-19 is 20x higher than the flu!" (Fact). I haven't heard the former, but I've heard a lot of the latter.
So be smart. Wash your hands regularly. Don't touch your face any more than needed and don't expose yourself to people who have COVID-19 or have been exposed to it. These statements are always true regardless of this specific virus.
My frustrations with this response are not personal. I have been inconvenienced like everyone else, but I'm doing fine. I'm most frustrated for the thousands of hourly workers who have lost their jobs unnecessarily. Industries like airlines, hotels, and restaurants may never fully recover. Many small businesses that operate on very tight budgets may be finished already.
This response to the virus has been akin to the US response to 9/11. In our fear of terrorism, we allowed a violation of our constitutional rights through the Patriot Act - still in operation today. We established the TSA - a monstrosity of an agency that frisks little old ladies, babies, and frail old men just in case they have a bomb.
And yet other than confiscating a lot of nail clippers and water bottles, this agency hasn't demonstrably prevented a single attack in the 19 years of its existence. In 2016, in fact, Homeland Security sent undercover agents through screening 70 times with fake bombs. They succeeded in boarding planes 67 of 70 times.We need to temper our cautions with good sense.