The first American citizen’s death from coronavirus has been reported. The American embassy in Beijing announced Saturday that a 53-year-old man died at Jinyintian Hospital in Wuhan, the city that is the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. The global death count is now over 810, surpassing that of the SARS coronavirus, which killed 774 people over the course of nine months. The 810 deaths recorded by this outbreak of coronavirus have all been in the past month.
There is no need to sensationalize this pandemic, as it looks like the United States government and medical professionals have been able to keep the virus under control, at least so far. President Trump took immediate action when the first reports came out of China. While I don’t have a lot of trust in the transparency of the Chinese government, especially in a matter like this that affects both the Chinese population and visitors, as well as the country’s economy, the Trump administration has handled the situation as well as can be expected. There is no need to panic but we must stay informed and protect ourselves as much as we can, just as with any other highly contagious virus.
The coronavirus is still largely contained within China. What is alarming about this outbreak is how quickly this virus spreads. Also, there is no vaccine for it right now, though scientists are working on one. This virus apparently spreads from animals to humans, a trait that separates it from the flu and other highly contagious viruses. It can take up to three weeks for a person to present symptoms after being exposed.
Saturday Chinese health authorities tweaked the name of the virus – now known as “novel coronavirus pneumonia” (NCP). Chinese authorities report that 37,000 people are infected, while about 6,100 cases were considered severe. The coronavirus has spread globally. Some comparisons to the SARS outbreak are being made, mostly in the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak because like in 2002 when the focus was on SARS, Americans were concerned about the government response to its spread. If I remember correctly, America’s response to the spread of SARS was not as swift as the current American response has been. That is good news – perhaps we’ve learned from past responses and have a better playbook to work with now.
In contrast to those of us who are concerned about the spread of coronavirus in America, some are using comparisons to the flu as a way to calm the nerves of Americans. The flu kills thousands of Americans every year – from young children to elderly adults. True enough. It is a false sense of security, though, to assume this coronavirus isn’t such a threat. There is much we don’t know about coronavirus and there is no vaccine. There are flu vaccines available and every year American professionals advise us to get them. There is an article in Wired that addresses the conflation of the flu and coronavirus.
For goodness’ sake, stop. Yes, we know the flu is bad—no one likes the flu. But the gambit of positioning the influenza virus as the scarier of two foes is as dangerous as it is hackneyed. During the outbreak of deadly hemorrhagic fever that hit West Africa in 2014, Americans were reassured, again and again, that “Ebola is bad. The flu is worse.” It’s true that Ebola didn’t become a true threat in the United States, where two people returning from Africa with the disease died, and only two cases of new infection were recorded. It’s also true that 148 children in America—and thousands of adults—would die from influenza over the following winter. But these whatabout statistics aren’t really meant to sharpen our vigilance around the flu, or even to encourage us toward higher rates of vaccination. They’re just supposed to calm us down, and make us realize that we needn’t go to pieces over some other, more exotic-sounding disease.
Stemming panic can be a righteous goal, especially when that panic is unfounded. Ebola certainly hasn’t vanished from the Earth—a recent outbreak in Congo has infected more than 3,000 people since August. But we now have a vaccine against the illness, and we’re better equipped to quell its spread. In the meantime, panic has unintended, harmful consequences. For example, just in the last week, we learned that the hoarding of face masks by healthy consumers might cause a dangerous shortage for the health workers who need them most.
Thousands of cruise ship passengers are being quarantined. The Pentagon is opening up U.S. military bases to accommodate those who have been exposed and need to be quarantined from the general public. Some airports are screening travelers. Medical professionals seem to be prepared to handle whatever comes their way. That is all good news. The numbers from the SARS epidemic were scary, but the coronavirus is a threat due to the numbers of those who have been exposed. It is an airborne disease, spread through respiratory systems. This is why some medical supplies are now in such limited numbers. There are shortages of masks now in some places, for example. Wearing masks is one suggestion health officials offer to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
A norovirus is reported to have spread through a southwestern Louisiana casino leaving over 200 people reporting symptoms. It’s not coronavirus but it points to the fact that this is cold and flu season. There are a lot of bad germs out among the general public and people need to be aware of that fact. The outbreak at the L’Auberge Casino in Lake Charles last weekend is a highly contagious gastrointestinal illness, which sounds like the flu. The Department of Health’s regional medical director Dr. Lacey Cavanaugh warns that people are contagious when they have symptoms, and even up to three weeks after the symptoms are gone.
The best recommendations remain the same as for other viruses during the cold and flu season. You know the drill – wash your hands, don’t touch your eyes and nose, cover your mouth when you cough, keep a five or six-foot distance from others if possible, use bleach-based cleaning products around the house, and most of all, go see a doctor if you have symptoms of any of these viruses. Don’t panic, just stay vigilant.