Fear and Panic

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So we’ve had a few more positive cases of the virus today. Still in single digits in my particular state but would suspect that is going to change. It is inevitable that the number of cases would go up as awareness increases and testing becomes more available.

When you look at various news sources, it seems like most people are at one of the extremes. Either this is just like a normal flu and nothing to be worked up about. Or it is the end of days. Well that’s a bit of an exaggeration. There seems to be rational, sane, intelligent people on both sides. And a lot of irrational people as well.

Find a few people in some kind of middle. Its likely more serious than the flu and we should be concerned but there is no reason to panic. Except that I read another article suggesting that there is nothing wrong with panic and early panic in a potential pandemic is probably a key to survival. Unless it isn’t a pandemic.

The problem is really getting information that doesn’t come with spin. The only real hard facts are new cases and new deaths. There are facts about the virus as well but a lot of this is just opinions and guesses. Take the death rate for example. It looks to be higher than the normal flu but it is certainly reasonable to assume that we don’t have perfect information on the number of deaths and number of infected people. It is also likely true that there is more uncertainty around the number of infected people. Which suggests that the raw death rate may be some kind of ceiling on the actual death rate.

I suppose this is just me but I take everything with a certain amount of skepticism. I can’t fully trust government messages (any government). Nobody wants a full out panic with riots in big box stores over hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes, so they have a built in reason to spin things optimistically.

But, in any system where you have two political parties, the main interest of the party out of power is to get back in power. So they must criticize the party in power and a crisis like this gives them the perfect opportunity. I certainly can’t fully trust the hysterical shrieking of politicians in the other party that “more needs to be done”. I mean they have a built in reason for saying that.

Plus, anyone who is just screaming that “more needs to be done” isn’t helping the situation. Unless you have a concrete solution, it is better to not say anything. More money? OK, how much does it actually take? Nobody knows so more money isn’t automatically better. Especially if the parties are arguing about an amount rather than just passing something to start with.

How about the “experts” on the various news programs. This is where my cynicism is fully on view. There are probably a lot of people who think science is apolitical but it is not. Again, there are certain facts that can’t be argued but if you are going to get into discussions about how serious this virus is or what the economic impacts are, then you are getting into best guesses because nobody really knows.

And, the media need to get people watching and clicking. Certainly, a crisis gives them a great opportunity for this. And if you can bring on the scariest experts you can find, then you keep people afraid and tuning in for the latest updates. Again, I’m cynical, but the media doesn’t exist to inform, they exist to inflame.

So just the flu or a world wide pandemic that’s going to cripple things for a couple of years? Strongly suspect the truth is in the middle and not at the extremes but we all run to the extremes. Which is why the big box store I went to on Saturday had empty shelves in the disinfectant wipe aisle and a sign stating they are going to limit how many you can buy.

As an ironic side note, I have a significant amount of experience with disinfectant wipes and effectiveness from my former job. If you are just doing a quick wipe of something, you aren’t killing the viruses. Read the instructions and you’ll find that a surface has to remain wet for a certain period of time to really kill the more nasty viruses. There’s my public service announcement for the day.

I’ve been to the gym the last two days and attendance is down (based on the parking lot). They’ve got hand sanitizer everywhere and most people are being good about wiping stuff down. But are we taking too much risk? On the one hand, you could argue that exercise makes you stronger and that might help improve your immunity. Then again, I’ve got a lot of lung issues in my family tree so who knows what risk I’m really running.

Same with ballroom. Haven’t seen a decrease at the studio yet, but we’ll wait and see. They have hand sanitizer there are well but when you dance pro/am, you are in physical contact with your instructor. Can’t be avoided. Go to a studio party and you are sharing hands with practically the entire studio if you start to chain together who you’ve danced with and who they’ve danced with and so on. And nobody breaks between dances to wash their hands or use the sanitizer. Not to mention the crowded floor. Then again, I’ve done this for years and never come down with the flu. Keep the lessons but skip groups and parties. Is that the appropriate level of risk control?

There is an event this weekend that we like to attend but we’ve made the decision to skip it this year. Maybe that is being a little paranoid given the low number of cases reported here. But this is an event that is always crowded and there are lots of things to touch. Given that testing isn’t yet widespread, it kind of felt like the appropriate thing to do.

I hate having to think this way. Part of me just wants to live life and not worry about any of this. A life lived in fear is really no life. On the other hand, even though the risk seems quite low (for now), it feels irresponsible to simply ignore the fact that there is this virus out there. OK, it is certainly true that I’ve never gone through this type of thought process with the flu so I’ll have to admit that the voices of doom have impacted me.

Case in point, I have a weather app that was buzzing me with each new death in the US. I mean this is a weather app. I expect to be buzzed if we’ve got severe weather coming. I don’t need this. And I suppose we’d all be more concerned with the flu if the death and case counts were treated like this virus.

Well I suppose I need to stop. I will say that I’m glad that I’m not working anymore. Work is the one place where people will show up even when they aren’t feeling well. I was known for sending people home when they thought they needed to drag their sick carcasses in when they needed to be home in bed and not spreading their germs around. Had people show up with fevers before. Now, if someone came in with a fever, I wonder if everyone would need to be tested. That would be a headache.

OK, I’m really done now.

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