It’s no surprise that people are misinformed, dis-informed, misled, or that their priorities are skewed. We can thank the media for much of that, and our postmodern, post-truth world where subjectivity trumps truth at every turn, and narratives are more important than science. It’s also nearly impossible to get accurate information out of China, because of their tight control over information — with threats of jail sentences to anyone who shares information or images of the epidemic — and, among other things, their refusal to allow the CDC to go in and help them. Because of this, it’s very difficult to get rigorously accurate science. So, just to be clear, I’m not saying the people who espouse, or more likely repeat these things are dumb, but that the arguments or stances are themselves dumb. No offense intended.
The general tendency is to advise people to not worry about the shit until after it hits the fan, when wisdom would tell us that’s when it’s too late. All the arguments I consider dumb play down the threat of the virus, and thus help insure that it spreads. True, the issue is probably more important to me, living 45 miles from Bangkok, which is the city with the most cases outside of China; and it’s likely a bit more academic if you live thousands of miles from a couple cases. I am motivated by the fact that — surprise, surprise — I don’t want to get the virus, or for it to hit the community I live in.
Let’s kick this off with the most widespread sentiment coming out of the mainstream media in the West.
#1. The flu is more dangerous than the Novel Coronavirus 2019.
This is basically saying that the common flu is more dangerous than a super flu. The current science shows roughly 20-25% of people who contract the Wu-flu (as I will refer to it for convenience) need hospital care, as compared to just 1% in the case of the seasonal flu. The death rate for the Wu-flu is estimated 2-3%, or about 1 in 25-30 people, as compared to less than 1 in 1,000 for the seasonal flu. The Wu-flu is also more contagious than the flu: one person can infect on average roughly 2.5 people as opposed to 1.28. There’s no vaccine for the Wu-flu, and we have no immunity because it’s new.
NEWS FLASH: China also has the seasonal flu, and if it’s more dangerous, they wouldn’t shut down whole cities, and their economies, because of a less dangerous virus.
True, you are at less risk of getting it than the more conventional flu if you live in America, at present. But the Wu-flu, according to current science, is much worse if you do get it, and much more dangerous if it takes root in your community. Beyond the immediate health risk to individuals, there’s the impact, economic and otherwise, to cities that get quarantined.
#2. SARS was more deadly.
This is dumbest when it comes from the same sources that say the common flu is more dangerous than the Wu-flu, if less deadly, because you are more likely to get it (if you live outside of China). You are more likely to get Wu-flu than you ever were to get SARS. Consider there are already over 17,000 cases of Wu-flu, which has only existed for less than 2 months, and SARS infected just over 8,000 people in total. SARS was containable because, unlike the Wu-flu, it was only transferable when people already had symptoms. Because you can spread the Wu-flu in its incubation period, when you have no symptoms, it’s exceedingly more difficult to contain. SARS killed 774 people before being contained, whereas the Wu-flu has already killed over 350 people, and draconian attempts to contain it have not worked. SARS killed a much higher percentage of infected people than has the Wu-flu, but infected far fewer.
Whether the Wu-flu, SARS, or the seasonal flu is or was more deadly in regards to total deaths or potential deaths, the headlines that the Wu-flu is not as serious is just sticking our heads in the Petri dish.
#3. You needn’t bother with masks.
People say this because the virus can pass through the mask, if it’s your garden variety face mask you get at the supermarket. This is also true of the common cold. Wearing a mask can’t protect you from inhaling minuscule viruses. However, if you are the one who is sick, they prevent you from spraying the virus across the room and all over surfaces. If you only care about yourself, you still want other people to wear masks, in which case you are less likely to pick up the virus in the first place.
And since touching your nose or mouth are two of the easiest ways of getting the virus, covering them stops you from doing that so much.
#4. Panic and hysteria.
Apparently, along with words like literally, random, and privilege, people throw these words out so frequently we’ve lost all sense of what they really mean. Panic is a fight or flight reaction to an immediate danger. People in America aren’t likely panicking about a flu that might come their way months down the road. Are people freezing like deer in the headlights or running around like chickens with their heads cut off, or are they just talking about the virus? People aren’t just on-off switches, and either panicking or utterly indifferent. Concerned or worried would be infinitely more accurate terms to apply in almost all cases.
When there is the threat that a potent virus has hit your community, as there is where I live in Thailand, I’d prefer that people were concerned, in which case they would take appropriate cautions, rather than just pretend it doesn’t exist.
Worse case scenario of people “panicking” during a pre-epidemic is that they stay indoors, wash their hands, and so on. Some people will proactively buy up supplies, but whether they do it now or as the wave of the virus slowly envelopes a city, those same supplies are going to be used up. The people who horde them in order to later sell them at a profit are themselves not panicking, but carefully planning to exploit a possible crisis.
As far as I’m concerned, the more other people overreact to the potential threat of the virus, and wash their hands incessantly, the safer I am. Yes, perhaps there’s too much conern in quarters of Iceland, but there obviously hasn’t been enough worry where it really mattered, otherwise we wouldn’t already have unleashed a new virus on the global population.
#5. RACISM, RACISM RACISM!
Racism in connection with a potential global pandemic is a trivial issue, and a lot of the accusations of racism are false. It is not, for example, racist for Russia to close its border with China any more than it is for doctors in Hong Kong to threaten to go on strike if Hong Kong doesn’t seal its border with mainland China, or for Chinese cities to block passage from other Chinese cities that have the virus.
It is not racist to say that many Chinese people — though certainly not the majority — in mainland China eat exotic animals or dogs. I lived in the middle of China, and not only was dog on the menu at several restaurants I ate at, a dog was killed with a wire noose outside my apartment in order to serve it at the restaurant next door. Hell, my Chinese girlfriend once brought along a baggie of meat that she said was wild pig, and “good for your healthy,” but tasted a little gamey to me. When I found a paw in the bag, I stopped eating it. It wasn’t a dog or cat paw, but it was definitely a paw. Chinese medicine famously uses all sorts of animal parts, including rhino horns, and the virus evolved because of wild animals being kept in close, and unsanitary conditions, in a wet market. That said, one of my Chinese friends refused to eat in a restaurant that had dog on the menu, and just like everyone else, virtually nobody can countenance eating a kind of meat they didn’t grow up eating. Some Chinese people eat dog, not because they are barbarian, or because there is anything inherently different about them, but for the same reason we eat pigs in the West.
So, it is not racist to blame China, or even local Chinese customs for the rise of the virus, but it is racist to somehow equate that with being genetically Chinese. THAT is stupid!
It is not racist to avoid an Asian-looking person because you think they might be a Chinese tourist and they might be infected. The same person who steers clear of the presumed Chinese tourist would studiously avoid getting near a CIS-gendered white male, or anyone who looked like one, if they were the suspected source of a contagious disease. Chinese people avoid other Chinese people in China if they think they have the virus.
In America we are so obsessed with racism, exaggerating it, projecting it on people, and even inventing it (Jussie Smollet comes to mind) that we have a difficult time wrapping our heads around a potential pandemic being more of an issue than unconscious micro-regressions. I haven’t heard anyone with an inkling of functional intelligence equate merely being Chinese with being responsible for the virus.
Actual racism towards Chinese people — such as bullying someone for having the virus when it’s known they don’t, or even if they do — is moronic and should not be tolerated. On the other hand, calling anything and everything racism, and making that the bigger issue than a burgeoning global pandemic is also a bit dim. More than 350 Chinese people in China have already died from the virus, and we are more concerned about someone merely avoiding an Asian person in the West. THAT seems a bit racist to me, but again, not the real issue. I’ve been told, “Laowai Fok-U” (“lao wai” means “foreigner” and is typically applied to whites) in China many times, and I’d take that over being on my deathbed with viral pneumonia, opportunistic infections, or other complications, any day.
#6. China should be praised for how it has handled the virus.
No! For political reasons, they won’t accept help offered by the CDC. The communist party lied about the virus, saying it hadn’t spread from person to person, after there had already been more than a dozen cases of medical workers becoming infected by patients. They knowingly allowed possibly infected individuals to board planes to other countries when they already knew that the virus could be spread in its incubation period, in which case it could not be screened at airports through temperature checks.
After the virus had already taken root in Wuhan, and just four days before locking down the city, they held a “10,000 Family Banquet” not far from the epicenter of the outbreak. 40,000 families showed up, and this was the most effective way possible of insuring and maximizing the pandemic potential of the virus. Why nip a new virus in the bud when you can spread it as far and wide as possible?
When they had the initial four cases coming from workers in the seafood wet market, the government threatened doctors who wanted to warn their families about a “SARS-like virus”.
In short, they had early notice of the virus, flaunted it with suicidal hubris, knowingly allowed infected people to board planes and spread the virus to other countries, and still deny assistance from the Centers for Disease Control. If that’s exemplary, it’s of how to fail to control a virus. Undoubtedly individuals within China are doing extraordinary jobs of fighting the virus, but the government appears most concerned with maintaining power and control, and with managing its image.
We don’t know just how concerned we need to be about the Novel Coronavirus 2019, because we don’t have the science down yet. Predictions of mortality, transferability, and how many of the infected need serious hospital care are largely based on China’s figures, which we can trust to reflect what they want us to hear rather than the reality, whatever that may be. Outside of China people infected with the Wu-flu are recovering well, but they are also getting the best care the respective countries can offer. Fortunately, so far, the virus does not appear to be spreading much from person to person outside of China.
Fears arise because of the drastic measures China is now taking within its own borders, their stifling any non-official information flowing out of the country, and several of their major cities, including Shanghai, looking like ghost towns. It’s hard to imagine they would take such draconian measures if the Wu-flu were no more dangerous than the seasonal flu, which they have in abundance (I”m sure I had at least 6 or 8 serious lung infections while I was living in China).
We need to be smart and proactive about the virus. No matter how dangerous this flu is — and the minimal we could hope for is having seasonal flu A, B & now C (not exactly, because it comes from an animal, but you get the idea) — the goal should be, and should have been, to nip it in the bud. Apparently it is too late for that, and the most we can hope for is to minimize the damage, slow the spread of the virus until we can get a vaccine, and hope to learn from our latest wave of same-stupid-mistakes (SARS arose from similar conditions and a similar meat market).
Dumb ideas that counter due caution and vigilance in stopping the spread of this virus aren’t doing anyone any favors.