As a professor who taught nursing students statistics for four years, I am well-aware of the care we need to use in analyzing data and interpreting them. A lot of times, the media tend to distort the true state of a situation — by selective reporting. Before coming to the US to study in 1974, I heard that NYC was a very dangerous place with very high crime rate. But the seriousness of the crime situation was likely to be grossly exaggerated due to reporters’ tendency to report only the most sensational bad news.
Several days ago, when I talked to the librarian at my local library, she told me something very thought-provoking. She raised the possibility that we might already have had the Coronavirus virus without knowing. Early this year, many of the library staff members were sick. I also remember that I had symptoms of bronchitis in mid-January this year, right before Chinese New Year. I had flu-like symptoms such as headache, fever and coughing that kept me up all night. But I recovered from it within two days. I remember sweating a lot in bed one night. After that, I was fine.
Today, I got news that the first case of Coronavirus probably happened on November 17, 2019 in Hubei. If that is the case, then it is plausible that many of us in the US already had the virus without knowing and had successfully recovered from it. If that is so, then to shut down schools, businesses and other public spaces is an overkill. Let us remember that our bodies have an immune system. Even though this virus is new, our immune system has the ability to fight off any viral invader. Remember the mortality rate from the Coronavirus, while higher than that of the regular flu, is still low — around 3%. And most cases are mild. There is virtually no mortality among the very young. Even for older people in my age group (60–69), the mortality rate is around 3.5%. If you are 70–79, the mortality rate increases to 8%. For elderly people (80–89), the mortality rate shoots up to 15%. Still the vast majority of people survive and manage to recover from it.
The problem in assessing the situation lies in the fact that it is still difficult to get the testing kit and most people are not tested. Without widespread testing, it is difficult to track the spread of the disease and the recovery from it. It is also difficult to identify Patient Zero (the first person who got it). This is very important information because it helps us to locate the true origin of the disease. If it can be demonstrated that many of us have already got the virus and have managed to recover from it, then the panic will be calmed. This is a very important task for health professionals to do right now — to demonstrate our resilience, not just our vulnerability. Right now, the media are just informing the public about infection incidents and deaths. That is only one side of the story. To calm the public, they also need to publish the recovery rate.
To sum up, we need a balanced approach to handle this pandemic — exercise caution, but don’t panic. Mass panic causes stress, which makes us more vulnerable. Stress will compromise our own immune system, which is our only reliable defense right now. And mass panic shuts down businesses, travel and commerce. This will deal a heavy blow to the economy, causing and prolonging a recession. It is very important not to lose perspective and drown in pessimism. Remember that on one hand, we have vulnerability; on the other hand, we have built-in resilience. Above all, we have to have faith in our own immune system. In most illnesses, our bodies have a natural way to heal themselves. We need to restore out faith in nature.