The real COVID-19 danger? Government (Opinion)
The politicians have largely made a mess of a situation that could have been handled with measured, consistent leadership. Looking at the ACTUAL numbers, instead of the "yellow journalism" projections fueling panic among the general public, things are manageable.
Since the virus became public in December 2019, approximately 200,000 people in a world of more than seven and a half BILLION people have been infected with the virus. Of those, approximately 8,000 have died. The media and politicians looking to stoke the flames of fear eagerly report each new death painting a grim picture of a spreading virus that will overwhelm our health care system and kill more of us than we can imagine. What is often over looked is the number of people who have recovered, which is approximately 80,000 people so far. Among the remaining 100,000 people infected, most (about 80%) have very minor symptoms and will be just fine.
The real danger has been and continues to be government's reaction to the spread of the virus. I have often compared COVID-19 to past scenarios with the flu, including the outbreak of H1N1 "swine flu" in 2009. During that pandemic, an estimated 60 million Americans were infected with the virus. Nearly 300,000 were hospitalized and more than 12,000 Americans died. There was no panic. There was no economic shutdown. We persevered and pushed through as Americans. There was no overwhelming of our health care facilities and you could certainly grab a beer from an Irish Pub on St. Patrick's Day.
It's important to note that the availability of a vaccine makes a big difference between this new coronavirus and swine flu. That said, there's a flu vaccine and half of Americans don't take it.
We still don't know that actual mortality rate of coronavirus. We do know that the numbers compared to the deaths from influenza so far this flu season are very minimal. So far, more than THIRTY million Americans have fallen ill, approximately 400,000 have been hospitalized and between 22 and 50 THOUSAND Americans have died. All from the flu. Think about the lost wages and work productivity and the strain on our health system from this annual event. Yet, no panic, no government action and everybody continues to go about their lives.
What's even more interesting in the flu/COVID-19 comparison is that the World Health Organization has been talking about the impact of both viral outbreaks since the start. The conclusion so far? Flu is actually spreading faster and is more dangerous to young people. Whereas COVID-19 largely impacts older people with compromised health.
One of the arguments for closing the schools was that kids will pick up the disease and spread the virus at home, compromising grandma and grandpa. Facts have a funny way of changing a convenient narrative. In fact, the WHO also concluded that from the findings in the Chinese outbreak it was more likely that the kids were getting the virus FROM the adults and not the other way around.
Q. How are COVID-19 and influenza viruses similar?
Firstly, COVID-19 and influenza viruses have a similar disease presentation. That is, they both cause respiratory disease, which presents as a wide range of illness from asymptomatic or mild through to severe disease and death.
Secondly, both viruses are transmitted by contact, droplets and fomites. As a result, the same public health measures, such as hand hygiene and good respiratory etiquette (coughing into your elbow or into a tissue and immediately disposing of the tissue), are important actions all can take to prevent infection.
Q. How are COVID-19 and influenza viruses different?
The speed of transmission is an important point of difference between the two viruses. Influenza has a shorter median incubation period (the time from infection to appearance of symptoms) and a shorter serial interval (the time between successive cases) than COVID-19 virus. The serial interval for COVID-19 virus is estimated to be 5-6 days, while for influenza virus, the serial interval is 3 days. This means that influenza can spread faster than COVID19.
Further, transmission in the first 3-5 days of illness, or potentially pre-symptomatic transmission –transmission of the virus before the appearance of symptoms – is a major driver of transmission for influenza. In contrast, while we are learning that there are people who can shed COVID-19 virus 24-48 hours prior to symptom onset, at present, this does not appear to be a major driver of transmission.
The reproductive number – the number of secondary infections generated from one infected individual – is understood to be between 2 and 2.5 for COVID-19 virus, higher than for influenza. However, estimates for both COVID-19 and influenza viruses are very context and time-specific, making direct comparisons more difficult.
Children are important drivers of influenza virus transmission in the community. For COVID-19 virus, initial data indicates that children are less affected than adults and that clinical attack rates in the 0-19 age group are low. Further preliminary data from household transmission studies in China suggest that children are infected from adults, rather than vice versa.
Using the data from the docs at the WHO, you could actually draw a conclusion that the kids should be quarantined IN SCHOOL to protect them from getting it from their parents. But we live in a world of tweets and sound bites and it's easier for government officials to accept the media half-truths and agenda-driven propaganda and just enact draconian measures and essentially shut the economy down.
Look at the stock market and what is happening to retirement accounts across the nation. Look at restaurants which were already suffering from the media-driven panic with an estimated 75% drop in business. Now with doors closed, wait staff and other staff worried about where their next paycheck is coming from. Parents now in the role of teachers at home with schools closed. At what point will people who are now concerned about their next paycheck look at the numbers compared to other health risks and realize that they were victims of government action?
Most people who get the virus will have minor symptoms. Most people won't even contract the virus. And most people would have been fine if the government acted in a mature and measured manner, that is, with a plan. They should have talked through the findings in China before rushing to judgement on bad info and shutting down schools. They should have taken time to educate people and make everyone understand the low risk. They should have used the power of social media to support the few voices of reason during this crisis instead of trying to out do each other on bans, curfews (although Murphy isn't calling it that...yet) and closures.
Millions of Americans will be out of work. Thousands of businesses may never open their doors again. And for what? To stop the spread of a virus that is most likely not going to hurt you?
Why did our elected leaders not take the time to assess the risk groups and make decisions based on isolating the people that should not get sick for fear of death? And the propaganda from Hollywood elites like Mel Brooks and his son? Disgusting.
Feeding the false narrative that has lead to a shut down of healthy people. Healthy people with virtually no risk of being harmed by the virus now contend with bare shelves in the grocery store, lost wages and a grim financial outlook. The answer from government? Give everyone some cash and delay tax collection. What? Do you really think that government can restore what might be a trillion plus economic loss with a cash giveaway? Who's on the hook? Who gets the money? I can tell you that $1,000 sounds nice for a radio station giveaway contest, but it ain't gonna cut it as a replacement for a job for a working families in New Jersey.
No gyms? Why not? So many gyms are open 24 hours and there's plenty of social distance already. How about all the people that need to work out for their health. We lose 647,000 Americans every year to heart disease. Staying shut in certainly isn't going to help that crisis.
How about we take a page from Florida. Reopen ALL NJ restaurants IMMEDIATELY and adjust the occupancy rates. In Florida, its 50% capacity. In most establishments there's plenty of social distance if you have fewer people. Same with gyms and other wellness centers.
The bottom line is isolating at-risk people and keeping the economy going for a majority of Americans worked well in 2009. We cannot afford to panic every time there's a virus outbreak. This is not the movie "Contagion." This is real life and Americans don't hide in fear. We need to get a grip and get back to work.
The virus has already hit its peak in China where it started. So it's clear that the 'end of days' is not upon us. Actually, after a few weeks of struggling with the spread of infections, China is back to work.
As we've discussed many times, smart practices during cold and flu season go a long way, so hopefully lessons were learned for the next outbreak. Don't forget that President Trump acted immediately in January and limited travel and had people tested coming into the country. That action undoubtedly led to a relatively small number of actual infections in the US. And as the CDC and other medical professionals have been saying all along before the country shut down, it's actually incredibly preventable through good hygiene. But as my old executive producer on Chasing News used to say, "You can't report on the house that didn't burn." Seems the media lit the fire and the politicians fanned the flames. It's time to push back and hold them all accountable. Tune out the over-hyped coverage and vote out the politicians who cost you your job.
There will be a new virus. There will likely be a mutated strain of coronavirus. There will be natural disasters and wars. Life goes on. If this were the movie "Contagion" and millions were dying horrible deaths waiting online to get treatment in overrun hospitals, then it's reasonable to discuss a shut down. But this simply ain't that.
And to all the haters, no I'm not a doctor. No, I'm not a microbiologist. But I am an adult, husband and father who has the ability to READ. Try it sometime, you'll feel better for sure.
Bill Spadea is on the air weekdays from 6 to 10 a.m., talkin’ Jersey, taking your calls at 1-800-283-1015. Tweet him @NJ1015 or @BillSpadea. The opinions expressed here are solely those of Bill Spadea.
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