The mass hysteria surrounding Coronavirus is a form of fear resonance in the hive mind. Not since the Y2K threat and the 911 event has there been so much terror. Yesterday, I went to a grocery store in Irvine, California to buy a greeting card and was shocked to see the shelves emptied of toilet paper. Schools are shutting down, events are being cancelled, entire populations are quarantining themselves, and economies are being risked without the degree of reward that would warrant these changes.
The Dunning-Kruger effect suggests that people who know little about a subject overestimate their knowledge and people that know much about a subject overestimate how much others also understand. My Facebook feed is jammed with the first type of doomsday prophets predicting an apocalypse. Since I am a medical doctor and have a masters degree in public health, I fall into the latter category so let me briefly explain several public health and medical concepts in this blog.
Virulence– the severity of an illness. Early reports of high mortality rates of COVID-19 suffered from a wildly inaccurate denominator. It is precisely BECAUSE the vast majority of people only experience mild or no symptoms that they weren’t tested. In contradistinction, South Korea deployed widespread testing and found a mortality comparable to other respiratory viruses.
- South Korea has tested more than 140,000 people for the new coronavirus and confirmed more than 6,000 cases. Its fatality rate is around 0.6%.
Clearly the Dunning-Kruger “virus” is a co-factor for the virulence of fear being spread by the media and amateur public health experts on Facebook. In public health, we refer to host factors which means what are the characteristics of the host that mitigate the severity of illness.
COVID-19 is no different from any other respiratory illness. Hosts with poor immune systems (a result of aging and T-cell hypofunction are much more likely to get ill and die. Most young people are not affected because of their immune competence.
When people have antibody-based long acting immunity to a virus, we call that “herd immunity”. The mechanism for Influenza’s virulence is well-understood as the surface proteins are able to rearrange and mutate like the combinations on lock. The many ways that they can rearrange are what make the flu more deadly and elusive and why the flu vaccine is not very effective. In contrast, I am not aware of any such mechanism in Coronavirus. We know that such antibodies can be developed because 99% of people recover.
So no, Facebook experts, this one is not different; it is much easier to develop herd immunity than the flu.
A fomite is an object upon which a virus can reside and therefore spread. Contrary to what people believe, airborne spread is not the only or the best way to enter the body. Because of the nose hairs, mucous, phlegm, coughing, and sneezing we have protection (and potential spread) of viruses via these mechanisms. How clever it is that the viruses get us to expel them into the air! When a person sneezes onto a door handle and you touch it, it usually enters when you rub your eyes. Everyone rubs their eyes unconsciously. So the best protection from spread by fomites is just to wash your hands with soap and warm water.
Although a largely effective means of preventing transmission, the use of a demographically-based (not patient-based) quarantine is like bringing a tank to a bar fight. It is unfair, unwise, and unfounded to shut down schools and discriminate against people based on national origin for a condition that is many orders of magnitude less severe that the flu. I am not saying that COVID-19 is not bad. I am merely stating the obvious: the flu is infinitely worse in every way and yet we managed to run a society with the full knowledge that it will be a yearly deadly pandemic with no cure in sight. If we were able to manage our fear with the flu, why are we giving up all our freedoms over this common cold virus? Everybody just needs to avoid rubbing their eyes, cough and sneeze into a tissues (not sleeves), and wash their hands more often.
Remember all that mayhem that followed the Y2K virus? Oh that’s right, nothing happened. Here are the stats for other Coronaviruses that the media warned us about:
The 911 event ushered in multiple wars that cost millions of lives, trillions of dollars, and the abnegation of the 4th amendment of the Constitution.
It’s not the only thing we have to fear, but fear itself, combined with Facebook prophets of doom are making it harder to enjoy life and shop at Costco these days. The best we can do is go on living and resist the calls to destroy our world for the sake of a handful of minor upper respiratory cases that pale in comparison to the flu that we have tolerated for generations. Look at the infographic below and ask yourself why you would make the COVID-19 circle the size that it is when compared with the Spanish flu in 1918. And why isn’t there a big circle EVERY YEAR with 640,000 deaths a year from the flu worldwide? The product they are mongering is fear and unfortunately, the supply appears to be unlimited relative to hand sanitizer and bottled water.
Everybody please calm down. This is not a new threat, the virulence is not high, it still impacts hosts with immune aging, we will likely have herd immunity making it less severe each year, and simple measures of decreasing transmission on fomites like your hands will control the spread. The only epidemic I see here, as medical doctor and public health trainee, is that of the Dunning-Kruger viral co-factor. The main thing I take away from this madness is that Facebook is amazing and it has are transmogrified humanity into a transhumanist hive-consciousness.
Postscript: To my Facebook friends who may be spreading fear, I respect your intellects and hope that you will continue to emphasize what is known and not just the “what could happen” narrative. Thank you.