HORIST: Are we overreacting to the Coronavirus?
There are three things upon which virtually everyone agrees. In terms of the coronavirus, we need to be well informed. We need to avoid any unnecessary panic. And the issue should not be politicized. It is very possible that we are handling the matter wrong on all accounts.
The first two questions are sort of interrelated. If we promote panic, we are – by definition – misinforming the public.
Looking at the coronavirus in a proper perspective, we must look at two manifestations – what is happening in China and greater Asia – and what is happening in America. In Asia, extreme preventative measures make sense. More than 80,000 people have the virus – with more than 2000 dead — and it continues to spread.
In the United States, only a hand full of people are infected – and most of these people contracted the virus in Asia or from people recently returned from Asia. So far, we have only one community-contracted case – meaning a person who has not been to Asia recently and is not known to have been in the company of a recent returnee. Still, that is a notable case and it is being investigated thoroughly.
In addition to China, other nations with significant and growing cases of the Coronavirus are South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan, Iran and Italy. For those nations, Coronavirus is both a health and an economic problem.
The Comparative Death Rate
In the United States, some 60,000 to 70,000 people die from perennial influenza outbreaks – in which millions of Americans fall victim. It has a death rate of one-tenth of one percent. The Coronavirus is reported to have a two percent death rate – twenty times higher. That may sound more scary than it really is.
Even though the rate of death of the common flu is lower than such epidemics as SARS, Ebola and now the coronavirus, it is still bewildering that we passively accept the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans each year and get hyper-agitated about rarer diseases that will kill far fewer of our fellow citizens.
Furthermore, the two percent death rate is based on the spread of the virus in Asia, where health treatment is at third-world standards. So far, the death rate in the United States is zero. It will likely happen eventually as the number of cases most assuredly rise in the United States – and highly compromised people might contract it — but the virus is not likely to spread as it has in Asia, nor to be as deadly as the common flu.
Economic Impact vs. Health Impact’
While the coronavirus is having very little health impact on the United States, it is hitting our economy with a dramatic dive in the stock market. This has nothing to do with American economic policy. The coronavirus has impacted on the wellspring of our supply chain – China. Production in the Middle Kingdom has dropped precipitously. American business has lost both products to sell in the United States and access to the huge Chinese market.
It strikes at the heart of our capitalistic system because it reduces profits – and that takes down the stock market. It is not a fatal blow. American enterprises have sufficient supplies to serve the consuming public for weeks if not months to come. In the meantime, American companies will be seeking alternative sources.
Ironically, Trump’s trade policies with China may have even mitigated the problem a bit for the United States since they reduced the reliance on Chinese manufacturing – as American companies sought sources in other nations and even pulled factories out of China.
That is not to say it is not a significant problem. Profits will suffer and stocks will decline. Growth will suffer in the short-run.
America is not alone in this situation. Virtually all the world’s major economies are suffering more than the United States – especially Japan, South Korea and Europe. And no nation is suffering economically more than China.
As stocks continue their decline to what is known as a “correction” level – a common occurrence. However, the R-word has entered the economic conversation – recession. Though the drop in the market hit what economists call a “correction” – a drop due to stocks being overpriced – this is not that kind of correction. It is clearly related to a situationally imposed reduction in production and sales. The good news is that stocks are more likely to quickly rebound when the supply-chain is back in operation.
But the recession question is interesting because we have had one of the longest uninterrupted economic growth periods in American history. By all past measure, the economy is overdue for a traditional slow down. Will this be an underlying cause – masked by the Coronavirus? Who knows?
We should be thankful for the pro-growth economic policies of the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress. Our economy is much more capable of mitigating the economic impact of the coronavirus than it might otherwise have been. It is important to keep in mind that Trump keeps the economy at an increasingly accelerated pace even as it entered the time period when it should have slowed down.
If we compare the economy to the disease, it is hitting us when we are strong and able – not when we are weak and vulnerable.
But in this day and age, Democrats and the left-wing media will spin any situation against Trump. Even as they say we should not politicize this world health crisis, they proceed to politicize it. As is always the case with big government progressives, there is never enough money to handle a situation – and never enough new government workers to be hired to meet a crisis. That is their ever-present political criticism against fiscal responsibility.
The fact that this is an election year, fuels greater politicization of virtually everything – and enlarged by the unprecedented efforts to break the back of Trump’s substantial support among the voters. As might be expected, every one of the remaining Democrat presidential hopefuls is blaming Trump for every aspect of the Coronavirus outbreak – and even trying to spin suggestions that he is indirectly the cause of it.
Democrats have approached the coronavirus as yet another opportunity to deploy their Chicken Little strategy. They are doing their best to create a counterproductive panic by exaggerating both the actual health impact and mischaracterizing the government response vis-à-vis the Trump administration. They are fearmongering when the situation demands the admonition of President Franklin Roosevelt – that “we have nothing to fear but fear, itself.”
What can one person do?
As individuals, we can take APPROPRIATE and REASONABLE precautions. It is probably a good idea to postpone that trip to China – or any of the other highly impacted nations. If you are in the vicinity of those affected individuals, wear the masks, use hand sanitizers and avoid intimate contact.
If you are not near anyone infected – and that would be the vast majority of us – it is always good advice to cover your cough, wash your hands and do not chew gum you find under your bus seat.
You do not need to wear a mask in public – and most medical authorities will tell you that. You do not need to stop shaking hands with friends or using public transportation. And you do not need to avoid dinner in your favorite Chinese restaurant. If you are doing any of that, you are letting fear override the facts.
If you are prone to fearfulness, worry more about the common flu. It will infect more of us by far than the coronavirus – and kill a lot more of us. Who cares if the percentage is lower? It obviously is more deadly by a long shot.
Just as we passed through the outbreaks of Spanish flu, swine flu, Asian flu, SARS and Ebola, we will come out of this outbreak as strong as ever.
Just remember that no matter what precautions you take – or do not take – your chance of contracting coronavirus is infinitesimally small – and your chance of surviving it is better than 98 percent. In the meantime, I will be heading out to my favorite Chinese restaurant after I make an appointment with my Chinese cardiologist – and oh yeah, maybe stop by for one of those great Chinese massages (no not that kind).
All kidding aside — stay safe, but do not panic.
So, there ‘tis.