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The coronavirus, cooties, fear & the social media rumor mill
dennis Wyatt web
Dennis Wyatt


The very word used to turn some kids as white as a ghost.

Now substitute the word “coronavirus.”

One is a fictional childhood disease that’s the product of a playground rumor mill. The other is a real disease that is being made worse by the social media trolls and talking heads that are paid big bucks to fill 30 minutes of air time, essentially repeating the same thing over and over.

If you say the same thing over and over again aka Chicken Little, the sky will indeed end up falling down as more and more people are swept up in the predictions of impending doom.

It is clear that diseases distributed by people simply interacting socially are game changers. By the very nature of such viruses they are hard to contain and deal with, especially when there is no prevention shot.

But if you don’t think we are whipping ourselves into a frenzy that may actually be more damaging in the long run than the actual disease itself, you need to consider what is happening.

Stores are experiencing runs on items such as disinfected and hand sanitizers. That makes sense. But hoarding bottled water and toilet paper?

We do need to take precautions just as we would do with a flu season. No one wants to get sick. But what is driving this is the “horse race” aspect of the coverage. We get daily death count updates treated as breaking news. And to top that off “experts” are engaging in death rates per 1,000 cases conversations trying to give perspective to the virus’ spread using data that is light years from being complete or weighed sufficiently to assess true risk.

Take what we know about the flu from the go-to organization when it comes to causes of death in the United States — the Center for Disease Control. Gleaned from the CDC’s 2017-18 flu season data there were 45 million “estimated” cases of symptomatic illnesses, an “estimated” 21 million medical visits, an “estimated” 810,000 hospitalizations and an “estimated” 61,000 deaths.

Note those are estimates meaning the actual number could be higher or could be lower. Regardless, 61,000 deaths are a lot of people dying from the flu. On a global scale, the World Health Organization pegged flu deaths between 290,000 and 650,000

As of Tuesday at noon, there have been 26 confirmed coronavirus deaths in the United States and 3,805 worldwide.

It is clear the coronavirus has a long way to go before it approaches the deadly levels of flu. What makes it worrisome — besides how it is spread in the same manner as flu — is there is no known vaccine. You can rest assured, though, the much-maligned big pharmaceuticals are leading the charge to find one.

It goes without saying, there are people out there who are more vulnerable to the virus than others. They are frail, have weakened immune systems and have underlying medical conditions. And if you don’t fall into that category, the last thing you want to be is a healthy person who may get the virus and not really get sick but end up infecting someone whose body defenses can easily be ravaged by the coronavirus.

But the reality no one wants to discuss is the cold hard fact that we are all going to die.

That, combined with fear of the unknown, makes the coronavirus the adult version of spreading cooties via social media.

In some cases, it almost seems that some are taking a twisted delight in spreading fear much like a kid taunting on the playground does about hammering a kid that they claim has contracted cooties.

It seems almost ghoulish to try and curb anxiety by stating the obvious, whether it is people have to die from something or that there are other documented diseases that kill in greater numbers each year without triggering such a societal anguish.

Perhaps the real reason we seem to be edging toward panic is multi-generational smugness. We take a lot of things that have been true life savers for granted — sanitation systems, treated drinking water, solid waste collection, basic medical care and vaccines.

Polio at one point was killing 500,000 plus people annually worldwide. The last polio epidemic in the Unified States in 1952 involved 57,000 cases that killed 3,145 and left 21,269 with partial paralysis. Yet large numbers of people eschew the vaccine as too risky even though it has been years since a case was reported in the United States and there are now less than a handful a year worldwide thanks entirely to the vaccine.

Instead of taking our cue from science, we hit the Internet searching for answers in the form of vendors such as one offering a “surefire antidote” to the coronavirus for $46.90 consisting of soap, gel and “structured silver minerals.” When the Federal Drug Administration ordered the site be taken down the vendor simply said they didn’t realize it was wrong to make such a claim.

It sounds woefully like a kid on the playground who took delight in getting other kids worked up into a frenzy about contracting cooties telling an adult after they were caught saying they saw no harm in lying.

If anything, the coronavirus has taught us that an open society governed by agencies not trying to look good in order to curry favor of a charismatic leader that has bought heavily into socialism can deal more effectively with public health scares.

The whiplash ride of the stock market in the last few days actually reflects that sensibility. Markets react to fear — and of late — panic of the unknown. The fact the markets bounce back virtually the next day after they plunge and repeat the process over and over again as if one were walking a yo-yo underscores the fact there is a sizable chunk of folks out there who get it enough that they are a counterweight to the panic.

The trick is for all of us to keep our heads and not let fear do more damage than the actual coronavirus.