So are we overreacting to the Coronavirus?

If this virus is so much less deadly and pervasive than the seasonal flu, why so much hype about it? Why are public health agencies in full mobilization mode? Why are people being quarantined? Why has the reaction been so over-the-top that it is tanking the U.S. and world economies, with economists now saying there is a good chance of a recession ahead?

There more than a few people asking those questions. Dismissive is one word we could apply to the attitudes of some we have talked with about the coronavirus and Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. It won’t get here, and if it does, we will go ahead with life just as we are now is what they say.

Closing schools, canceling public events and changing how we do businesses – ridiculous! New cases in China are falling fast. So why all the worry? This just the media, again, overhyping the latest sensational news story.

Consider this before jumping to a conclusion that the coronavirus is an overblown media-created crisis.

This virus is new to humans. We don’t have a vaccine for it, and one is a year to 14 months away from being ready. We don’t have antivirals to treat people who get it. We are not exactly sure about all the ways it can be spread, but it appears to be easily transmitted. The incubation period can be up to 24 days so a person can be infecting others long after they were exposed. People may be feeling just fine when they are infectious.

A big worry, and so far, a scientifically unverified fact, is the high mortality rate for those who get it. The World Health Organization has put out the figure of 3.4 percent. More recent figures put it at 2.3 percent. That would make it a whole lot more deadly than the flu, which has a mortality rate of 0.1 percent. That number is expected to drop as testing improves and more people are identified who have the virus but experience only very mild symptoms.

Medical officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are saying that based on current knowledge of the disease that 80 percent of the people who get the coronavirus will have only mild symptons. Around 15 percent will develop the more severe symptoms of a shortness of breath, pneumonia and a high fever. Five percent will be admitted to an intensive care unit and for 2.3 percent the virus is deadly.

It is also known that the elderly and people with underlying health conditions are more susceptible to the virus. Young people appear to be able to shrug the virus off without getting very sick with the mortality around the 0.2 percent range. However, for the elderly, those over 70, mortality goes up to 8 percent and for those over 80 nearly 15 percent.

People with underlying health conditions such as chronic lung disease, chronic cardiac disease, diabetes, asthma, cancer, cystic fibrosis, or a comprised immune system, are also more at risk of death.

We have an older population in rural South Dakota and that makes us more susceptible to the coronavirus. It will be more deadly in our northern South dakota counties than it will be in the Sioux Falls if it spreads to our communities. A single nursing home in Seattle where the disease spread has seen 16 deaths, so far.

There are also concerns that the virus’ spread in the United States is more likely to pick up than fizzle. Could the U.S. see a spread similar to what is taking place in Italy where in a single day this past weekend there were 133 deaths and the new cases jumped by 1,400?

When vaccines can be used on a large percentage of people in a community, they create what is called herd immunity. Herd immunity puts up roadblocks to the spread of disease. An infected person runs into too many immunized people, the virus can’t make the next connection, and it is at a dead end. It doesn’t spread. Quarantining those who are infected, postponing or cancelling large public gatherings, closing schools, practicing social distancing where we don’t shake hands, and washing our hands frequently are all measures that slow down the spread of disease when we don’t have vaccines to help us out.

A virus could run through an elementary school without anyone becoming severely ill, as long as none of the kids has an underlying condition that weakens his or her ability to fight it. But when those children go home, they could carry the virus to their parents and grandparents.

Slowing the progress of the coronavirus also provides our medical facilities the time to ramp up to handle it and the ability to slow the rush they might have to handle. When medical facilities are overwhelmed, they may not have the resources to treat all who need special attention effectively leading to a higher mortality rate.

It may seem that we are seeing the coronavirus spread completely blown out of proportion. But what would be unforgivable is not informing the public of the potential threats so state agencies, local health officials, families, and individual can plan.

Honesty. Calm, absolute honesty that assures without creating panic is what we need. Only that will help us move forward with the steps that will protect people and slow the spread of the coronavirus. This isn’t the last coronavirus and it most likely won’t be the worst one we will face.