From illegal pangolin trafficking to South Korean cults, news stories about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) have saturated headlines over the past few months. As of March 3, there have been an estimated 92,800 cases globally that have caused at least 3,100 deaths. The outbreak has spread to more than seventy countries but is yet to become a full blown pandemic. However, it is important to note that the accuracy of all current data is questionable due to China’s history of covering up problems.
Despite the relatively low death to case ratio, the large numbers have frightened many. In response to the high level of concern, Michael Bortz, a biology teacher at Washington High, said, “At the moment, especially for people in the U.S., I think there are things that we should be a lot more worried about than the coronavirus. It might have the potential to become dangerous, but it’s not at the moment.”
From the current death rates and transmission efficiency, coronavirus is only about as dangerous as influenza. Coronavirus may not have a vaccine yet, but then again, influenza vaccines must be constantly redeveloped. As with influenza and other similar viruses, the danger of COVID-19 is in its contagiousness, not its deadliness. It is always of public health concern to keep any contagious respiratory disease contained; the only reason the coronavirus has gotten so much attention is because it is a novel virus and containment is still possible. Flu pandemics can be devastating as with the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, however COVID-19 is far less dangerous and public health systems are far more competent.
Based on knowledge of similar coronaviruses, COVID-19’s symptoms include mild to severe fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. The incubation period, the time it takes to show symptoms, is estimated to be between one and fourteen days, so people can easily spread COVID-19 without knowing. In the U.S., there have been approximately one hundred cases (both confirmed and presumptive positive) and nine deaths. Each of these cases has been carefully monitored and quickly responded to, so the immediate risk of contracting coronavirus disease in the U.S. is low.
Although COVID-19 has led to relatively few deaths, it is still important to remember that the statistics aren’t the full story: each death was a human being. The statistics may not be as significant as they seem, but there is still a human impact on people and their families. “Since I have family living in China, I can feel it a lot,” says Ansen Shen, a Chinese foreign exchange student at the California Crosspoint Academy in Hayward. “I feel disappointed in the government, sympathy for the people, and anger towards officials who want to cover the truth.”
Fear, blame, and anger run rampant in any crisis, so it is always important to consider all perspectives and be well-informed in evaluating the true level of danger. The coronavirus situation is rapidly evolving, so continue to monitor the risk and practice general health precautions.