Five Reasons You Don't Need to Panic About the COVID-19 Coronavirus
The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus (causing the disease COVID-19) that emerged in Wuhan, China back in December 2019 is now spreading globally and has now been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). Its ascendance has already rattled stock markets, disrupted the daily lives of millions, and resulted in the heartbreaking deaths of over 4,000 people, including the 38 in the United States as of March 11th. With COVID-19's spread now picking up steam outside of China – it has now arrived in at least 100 countries and new cases are rising almost every day – we can expect its outbreak to get worse before it gets better.
Make no mistake, COVID-19 is a grave pathogenic threat which must be taken seriously. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):
More cases are likely to be identified in the coming days, including more cases in the United States. It’s also likely that person-to-person spread will continue to occur, including in the United States. Widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the United States would translate into large numbers of people needing medical care at the same time. Schools, childcare centers, workplaces, and other places for mass gatherings may experience more absenteeism. Public health and healthcare systems may become overloaded, with elevated rates of hospitalizations and deaths. Other critical infrastructure, such as law enforcement, emergency medical services, and transportation industry may also be affected. Health care providers and hospitals may be overwhelmed.
The CDC's warning is frank and unnerving. It is an impetus for sober and reasoned action. Stock up on a week's worth of frozen/canned food. Restock your medicine cabinet. Practice proper hygiene. Stay home if you're feeling sick. Avoid large gatherings if you are older, have a compromised immune system, or chronic health conditions like diabetes or heart disease.
There is no need, however, to panic. If you're feeling in any way anxious about the coronavirus outbreak, here are five facts to help assuage your worries.
1. The number of cases in China is already falling significantly. Where once the graph of coronavirus cases in China showed an exponential climb, it has now leveled off substantially. Just three weeks ago, China was recording more than 3,000 new cases per day. Officials are now consistently reporting fewer than a hundred. Seeing much-improved conditions on the ground, big companies like Starbucks and Apple in China are resuming business activities. The latest (Mar. 11th) World Health Organization (WHO) situation report revealed just 31 new cases in China in the previous 24 hours.
2. The vast majority of cases are mild, and the death rate is likely lower than reported. A large study of 72,000 confirmed COVID-19 patients in China found that 81% of cases were mild, another 14% were severe (characterized by difficulty breathing), and 5% were critical. Overall, the death rate was 2.3 percent. More recently, the WHO reported a death rate of 3.8% in China, but noted that it is rapidly falling as standards of care quickly improve. Early on, the city of Wuhan (where the disease originated) was inundated with patients and hospitals could not provide proper care due to overwhelming demand. For Chinese patients whose symptoms started after February 1st, the death rate is just 0.7 percent. A more recent study published March 9th suggested a real-world death rate of 0.5 percent in China. (For comparison, the U.S. death rate from 2019-20's annual flu oubtreak is between .06 percent to 0.1 percent. SARS a similar virus to COVID-19, had a death rate of 9.6 percent.) The death rate could be even lower, as very mild cases of COVID-19 that resemble a common cold likely go unreported.
3. Only one out of every 1,000 people in Hubei Province has contracted the coronavirus. There have been 67,773 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in China's Hubei Province, where the outbreak began in December. That sounds like a lot, but keep in mind that the population of Hubei is 59,170,000. The province is slightly smaller than Nebraska, but with thirty times as many inhabitants. With this sort of population density, it's a positive sign that just .12% (roughly 1 in 1000) of the population has caught COVID-19. Even if there were 51,000 unreported cases, that would mean only one out of every 500 people in Hubei caught the virus. This auspicious statistic is heavily attributed to a rigorously enforced isolation program in Wuhan, Hubei's capital city. Once regarded as draconian, the measure could actually provide a blueprint for other countries to stop COVID-19 in its tracks. Given the population density in most other countries is significantly lower than in much of China, we can expect that the coronavirus will have a harder time spreading in much of the world.
4. There have been no reported deaths in young children. Though the outbreak has endured for more than ten weeks, there still have been no documented fatalities in children under the age of nine, with almost all infected simply experiencing cold-like symptoms. Moreover, only 2.4% of cases are in individuals under the age of 18. Kids and teenagers have been surprisingly resistant to the virus.
The death rate for people aged 10 to 39 currently stands at just 0.2 percent. Those genuinely at risk from COVID-19 are the elderly. People aged 80 and up have a 14.8% to 21.9% chance of dying if infected.
5. The world already survived another pandemic just ten years ago. Remember H1N1, more commonly known as Swine Flu? This was the most recent pandemic (besides HIV/AIDS, which is still considered a pandemic). It began in early 2009 and lasted through late 2010. Between April 2009 and April 2010, there were approximately 60.8 million cases, 274,304 hospitalizations, and 12,469 deaths in the United States alone! Globally, it likely infected between 700 million and 1.4 billion people, resulting in 150,000 to 575,000 fatalities. While this loss of life was tragic, more than a decade later, many scarcely remember Swine Flu. The same will hopefully happen with COVID-19.
*Updated March 12th with the latest statistics.