NEWSFEED THURSDAY: Coronavirus can’t be a Crisis that becomes a Catastrophe

J Robert Smith

  • March 26, 2020
  • 3 min read

Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.

Helen Keller


In the fight to subdue the coronavirus contagion, the nation is hunkered down. Businesses, big and small, considered nonessential, are shuttered. Schools are closed. Sports, amateur and pro, are shelved. Restaurants are struggling. In some places, “shelter at home” is mandatory. In others, its voluntary.

Congress, with the president’s blessings, just passed a $2 trillion relief measure, the largest in U.S. history. It makes sense, despite Nancy Pelosi’s and Democrats’ salting the relief legislation with unnecessary pork. Workers and businesses are in distress – or many will be soon. The perfect is the enemy of the good.

But crises are typically shorter duration events. If a crisis becomes an open-ended affair, we have something more: we have the makings of catastrophe. That’s economic and societal.

President Trump’s instincts are as sharp as ever. He doesn’t plan to lead the nation into catastrophe. But other voices are permitting fear – or calculating political self-interest – to gainsay the common sense of smartly fighting the COVID-19 spread while getting the nation back on its feet.

Trump indicated that after the “15 Days to Slow the Spread” public health campaign expires on March 31, a thorough evaluation of the national shutdown is called for. That evaluation is very likely to lead the president and governors to open up portions of the nation.

Okay, so if the nation is in the grips of a worsening contagion, with many more serious illnesses and deaths, no. President Trump isn’t a fool. But to hear New York governor Andrew Cuomo and other Democrats pose the false choice of public health or an economic restart, its not a leap to see fertile ground ahead for demagoguery and fear-mongering. It’s much easier to spread fear and paralysis than it is to rouse courage and confidence.

Alarmists are quick to warn that the U.S. is headed Italy’s way, with a massive wave of infections. Get ready for hospitals and healthcare facilities to be overwhelmed, as has been the case in Italy. Deaths will rise dramatically.

What the alarmists don’t tell you is that just four provinces in Northern Italy have the lion’s share of infections. Those provinces are also the epicenter of deaths. There isn’t a lot of parsed data, but the best information indicates that most of the seriously ill and dead are older people with preexisting conditions. If you’re under 60 years of age, and you don’t have an underlying medical condition, your chances of dying, much less serious illness, fall off precipitously.

Approximately 85% of those younger than 60 who are infected will experience mild or no symptoms. Reinfection hasn’t been definitively determined yet, but, perhaps, more likely is that those infected will build antibodies to stave off similar COVID-19 bugs in the future. After all, COVID-19 is a subset of coronavirus. It’s a cousin to common colds.

The U.S. did have some lead time to prepare for the contagion. The nation has done remarkable work in short order to better deal with the virus.

Scientists and medical professionals are learning more about the virus daily. Yet we know this: COVID-19 isn’t the bubonic plague, Spanish Influenza, or the Hong Kong Flu. Backhoes needn’t be busy digging mass graves in communities throughout the nation.

If COVID-19 behaves like other viruses, it will begin to wane in the Northern Hemisphere with warming temperatures, higher humidity, and increasing ultraviolet light.

Sensible measures and prudence are still required as the nation moves into the spring and summer. But paralysis as a result of fear and demagoguing, leading to an indefinite shutdown of the nation, transforms a contagion into a catastrophe. Come April, let’s have the courage to battle the contagion and get most Americans back to work and living normal lives.

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