Covid-19 is in the United States. The new coronavirus strain has arrived on our shores, and the public has accordingly snatched up hand sanitizer and face masks in bulk, panicking all the while.
But it’s worth taking a step back and understanding the actual facts and the actual numbers.
In the 2018-19 flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “CDC estimates that the burden of illness during the 2018–2019 season included an estimated 35.5 million people getting sick with influenza, 16.5 million people going to a health care provider for their illness, 490,600 hospitalizations, and 34,200 deaths from influenza.” This was in the United States alone.
By comparison, the World Health Organization reported that a total of 3,198 people had died from the coronavirus as of March 4. That’s in the entire world, with the vast majority of those cases (2,984) in China.
Influenza generally kills about 0.1 percent of those infected. Covid-19 has thus far, according to the WHO, about 3.4 percent. That raw percentage, however, is likely overstated. According to Jeremy Samuel Faust, an emergency medicine physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston an instructor at Harvard Medical School, the number doesn’t include a large number of mild or asymptomatic cases.
In South Korea, for example, where the government has instituted aggressive testing across the board, the WHO reports about a 0.6 percent fatality rate.
It’s worth asking then, why be concerned about Covid-19 at all?
The challenge is that this is a novel disease. We don’t have general resistance to the public because we’ve never been exposed to this strain. Because there aren’t proven treatments yet, or a vaccine (although both are in the works), it’s important to reduce spread, especially among those who are older or with underlying health conditions.
But frankly, these are populations that we should be concerned about every influenza season. These are precisely the people who bear an outsized burden of flu-related hospitalizations and deaths. We owe them our care and concern all the time, not just now.
The coronavirus is in the United States.
It will likely arrive in Kansas at some point or another.
But if we take the proper precautions — hand washing, flu vaccines (to reduce the chance of a compounding illness), setting aside some extra supplies if we’re required to stay home a week or two — we will make it through the challenge together.