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Please, stop the hysteria



Analysis/Opinion


Just over a year ago, long before the term "coronavirus" had entered our collective vocabularies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that in just a few short weeks of the 2018-19 winter season, the flu had sickened between 6 million and 7 million Americans. About half of those had gone to the doctor for help. Somewhere between 69,000 and 84,000 had been hospitalized. The good news, the CDC announced, was that it wasn’t nearly as severe as the year before.


The previous year, 2018, the CDC reported 49 million Americans had been sickened by the flu. 960,000 were hospitalized and over 80,000 ended up dead.


You read that right, in 2018 over 80,00 people died from the flu in the United States. Most of the victims were geriatric, many with compromised immune systems. There were a handful of pediatric deaths, most with immune systems not yet fully developed. All tragic deaths. All flu related.


Fast forward to 2020 and we find our world in utter panic due to something called the coronavirus, or officially, COVID-19. Since March 2, the stock markets have been in freefall, the Dow having lost over 5,000 points, including shaving another 2,000 points Thursday with a “circuit breaker” tripped when it lost more than seven percent of its value at the open.


The organizers of South By Southwest — which draws hundreds of thousands of visitors and some of Hollywood and music’s biggest stars to Austin, TX at this time each year — canceled the annual arts and technology festival, saying they’re “devastated” but recognize it is necessary to prevent a serious threat of contagion.


Oddly, this "recognition" came despite the fact the Austin Public Health Department had stated as recently as the previous Wednesday that “there’s no evidence that closing SXSW or any other gatherings will make the community safer,”


No evidence that closing gatherings makes anyone safer and yet panic is setting in everywhere.


Late Thursday, the NCAA Canceled the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. That escalated the decision from two days earlier to cave to public pressure and grant the National College Players Association (NCPA) request that the men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments be played with no crowds in the arenas due to coronavirus fears.


Earlier Thursday the Power 5 conferences had announced the cancellation of their post-season tournaments.


Just days before, multiple colleges and universities announced they would be closing campuses for extended Spring Breaks for as long as into April.


We may have a new definition of "March Madness."


The NBA abruptly suspended its season Wednesday night after Utah Jazz C Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus. (Photo Illustration: CNN)


The NBA made the abrupt and hasty decision Wednesday night to indefinitely suspend the season after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for the virus. Thursday, it was announced that Donovan Mitchell. Gobert's teammate, has also tested positive for COVID-19.


The National Hockey League followed suit Thursday afternoon. Major League Soccer suspended its season for 30 days effective immediately due to coronavirus fears. Late Thursday, Major League Baseball canceled the rest of spring training and will delay Opening Day by as much as two weeks.


The same reactionary hysteria is taking place all over the globe. Broadway goes dark tonight. Cities and states across the U.S. are declaring "states of emergency."


Saudi Arabia took the rare step of suspending religious pilgrimage trips to Mecca. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte initially ordered the quarantine of the country’s northern region of Lombardy and 14 nearby provinces in an attempt to halt the spread of the coronavirus and has now extended that lockdown to the entire country.


A couple dozen passengers on two cruise ships tested positive and more than 4300 other passengers and the crews totaling nearly 2000 between the two ships were held hostage for days. Even upon release from the vessel, all will be quarantined for 14 days at various military facilities. Airlines in the U.S.and around the world are canceling flights and waiving change and cancellation fees.


There are threats to close down public schools all across the United States. The Mayor of a Japanese town scheduled to host the 2020 Olympics this coming summer has suggested the Olympics should be rescheduled for later in the year, if not into 2021. St. Patrick’s Day parades are being canceled around the country.


Hysteria. Total hysteria.


The Associated Press put out a tweet early Thursday morning that called attention to the ridiculous nature of the hysteria. The post highlighted the facts indicating the virus is not the dangerous killer most of media are painting it to be. The AP story points out that even those with the most compromised immune systems are not in certain peril of death.


Is it possible the coronavirus is something less than the second coming of the Black Plague? I have this crazy habit of checking facts and putting things in context. As I write this, I am looking at the “real time” CDC website which lists the “COVID-19 U.S. at a glance” statistics.


The latest numbers? There are 1,573 cases (as of 2:55 p.m. ET Thursday) of coronavirus in the entire United States, 40 related deaths and 272 new cases in the last 24 hours. The fact that two of the new cases are NBA players has just added to the hysteria.


Obviously, any death is tragic. But does a count of 40 deaths in a country of 330 million people really warrant billions of dollars in Wall Street losses, the cancellation of festivals, games, entire sports seasons, community gatherings, schools, church services and more?


Traders have watched a nearly 20% drop in stock prices since March 2. (Photo: Fox Business)


In a word, no. It is irrational hysteria and fearmongering. The rapid spread of a highly contagious virus is irrelevant when the seriousness of most infections is mild to non-existent.


Despite the nearly 1 million people hospitalized in the U.S. for the flu two years ago, with over 80,000 dead, games weren’t canceled. Festivals thrived. Concerts weren’t shut down. Flights continued on as originally scheduled. Business was conducted as usual despite 80,000 dead.


Why then are we closing down society in response to 38 deaths? Why the madness? Why the total hysteria?


It may be because the mainstream media is quite sure that fear sells. Facts be damned. Every year during hurricane season, the Weather Channel puts a 23 year old kid in an oversized rain slicker on the beach in the rain and wind to breathlessly report how Hurricane “Fill in the Name” may potentially be the worst hurricane to make landfall in the United States since Christopher Columbus arrived. The storm eventually peters out but not until after millions of fear-filled viewers have tuned in endlessly in between clearing out the local grocery stores of water and canned goods).


Fear sells.


News media is taking the sale of fear to a new low with the coronavirus. The CDC told us that 49 million Americans were sick with the flu in 2018. That same CDC tells us only 1,573 are sick with coronavirus now, nearly all of whom are high risk, frail individuals.


Do we find CNN and other so-called "legacy media" reassuring us with that context? Of course not.


Instead they are reporting on new modeling from The Australian National University looking at seven scenarios of how the outbreak might affect the world’s healthy and wealth. It is a hastily assembled study that foretells a future bordering on a modern day “Black Plague” situation even under the best of circumstances.


The University study predicts a death toll of 15 million people and a global GDP loss exceeding $2.4 trillion U.S. dollars. That is their best-case scenario.


It gets much worse from there. The modeling is suspect, the assumptions grotesque and the science nearly non-existent, but that hasn’t stopped major news outlets from repeating the absurd conclusions.


Fear sells.


Liz Specht, who has a PhD. in biology and is the associate director of Science and Technology for the Good Food Institute sent out her worries in a lengthy Twitter thread last Friday. Her assessment of how coronavirus is likely to impact the U.S. health care system suggests that hospitals will be quickly overwhelmed with patients, and that all available hospital beds will be filled by about May 8th.


She, as breathlessly as a Twitter thread allows, ridiculously claims 10 percent of patients will require the ICU. Let me repeat that. Every single hospital bed in the United States will be filled with coronavirus patients by May 8th.


Now let me correct her. No they won’t.


An hysterical Ph.D in biology, Liz Specht, postulates filled-to-capacity hospitals and 10% of coronavirus patients in ICU by May 8.. (Photo: CDC Lab, Atlanta)


The people predicting at least 15 million deaths and overflowing hospitals are the same as the ones that told us the polar ice caps would completely melt by 2013. Reality check: According to official government data from the National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC), Arctic Sea Ice is once again growing, with current 2020 levels exceeding 8 out of the previous 10 years.


Never ones to let hysteria flourish without spending taxpayer money, Congress rushed to approve $8.3 billion to fight the spread of the coronavirus. Members literally bragged about who had come up with the highest dollar amount.


Pressed for exactly what the money would be spent on and how it would stop sickness, members stumbled. By the end of last week however, House Leadership was suggesting that perhaps Congressional staff should work from home to avoid getting sick, and some of the funds could be used to buy them new phones and new computers.


Only in D.C. would the fight against a dreaded virus entail buying congressional staff new telephones.


Over the weekend I watched Dr. Ben Carson’s appearance on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopolous.” They spoke about the administration’s response to the coronavirus. Dr. Carson is not only a medical doctor, he is quite literally one of the most respected and revered surgeon’s on the face of the earth.


He attempted to bring a logical approach to the discussion, assuring viewers that most were not at high risk. Primarily the frail and aged should be concerned. Dr. Carson encouraged people to learn what the real risks were, to wash their hands frequently and take other simple precautions, but also encouraged people to continue to live their daily lives.


Stephanopolous, however, was having none of it. He kept insisting that the Trump administration should be doing a broad undefined “more.”


ABC's George Stephanopolis wanted to sell fear while Dr. Ben Carson was counseling for reason and calm... (Photo: ABC News)


Despite Dr. Carson’s medical expertise, George was busy selling fear.


A recent headline in The New York Times: “Virus Keeps Spreading as Governments Clamp Down.” Very clever. A double dose of fear. People are petrified of disease and are also freaked out by the government making demands on them.


Fear! Fear! Fear!


Stop. Please stop. Stop the hysteria. Stop the panic. Stop the grand ideas intended to demonstrate that you’re doing “something.” Stop the fear. Stop talking about coronavirus non-stop. Stop with the gloom and doom.


Instead let’s try something much simpler. Let’s follow the Centers for Disease Control suggestions for minimizing the risk of contracting coronavirus or any other common cold/flu type illness:


Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Stay home when you are sick. Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.


Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a face mask. CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a face mask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.


Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.


If you feel you absolutely must do more, take a moment and say a prayer for the 38 lethal victims of coronavirus. As long as you’re in the praying mood, say a prayer for the 80,000 dead victims of the flu too. Pray all you can, for all you're worth.


… but please promise not to be an instrument of the hysteria.

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