There is much fear, anxiety, and misinformation in the air about the new virus, officially called COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 or commonly referred to as the Coronavirus. Some talk show pundits say: “Don’t worry. The symptoms are like the common cold.” Other politicians are noting, “No worries. We have this thing under control! A vaccine will be developed very soon!” The media is playing this virus up like doomsday is coming! Others are commenting, “Why are we so alarmed about this new virus while the flu kills thousands more people?” Let’s examine the facts about the new virus without all the background noise. What do we know from reputable experts?
What is a Coronavirus? National Public Radio reports “The name for this kind of virus comes from the crownlike spikes it has on its surface — “corona” is Latin for “crown.” According to webMD.com, “Coronaviruses were first identified in the 1960s, but we don’t know where they originated. Sometimes, but not often, a Coronavirus can infect both animals and humans.” It has now presented itself in more than115,000 cases in nearly 90 countries, with major outbreaks in China and South Korea. Italy, with the third largest outbreak, has quarantined its entire population! Currently, the new virus has killed more than 4,000 people! In the US, there are 729 confirmed cases of the virus with 29 deaths. The Wall Street Journal reports that thousands could be infected in the US and don’t know it.
Isn’t the flu more dangerous than this virus? YES! According to the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC), the agency estimates that in the US between October 2019 and February 2020, there were: 34+ million illnesses, 20+ million medical visits, 500,000+ hospitalizations, and more than 30,000 deaths as a result of the flu! Those are staggering US flu-related statistics compared to the Coronavirus!
How did the Coronavirus begin? The first known cases in December 2019 were traced to an animal market in the Chinese city of Wuhan and are believed to have come from contact with live animals that were infected. Wuhan is a major transportation train and airline hub, lies about 500 miles west of Shanghai, and is home to more than 11 million people.
Why should we be concerned about the Coronavirus? In March 2020, Harvard University convened a panel of experts in infectious diseases and public health who reported: “The outbreak of the Coronavirus is the type of emergency they had long anticipated. But now it is here. It’s the most daunting virus we’ve seen in half a century or more.” The expert panelists pointed out that the problem with this virus is that most of us build up an immune system over our lifetimes to the flu, whereas this virus is new to our bodily protections and no one is immune. And, there are no drugs or vaccines for preventing or treating this new epidemic. Scientists are very concerned that the virus could rapidly spread throughout the US and that we are about 1-2 months behind other countries. The Coronavirus has now mutated into two, different virus strains called L (more aggressive) and S.
Who are exempt and who are most vulnerable? The virus doesn’t seriously affect many children because of their highly developed immune systems, but most research indicates that they can be carriers of the Coronavirus. Thus, many countries have closed their schools and universities. The people who are most impacted are the elderly and those with serious diseases or immune systems that cannot repel the virus. More than 15% of the individuals who are 80+ years old that contract the virus die. Residents in nursing homes are the most vulnerable.
How will the virus spread in the US? According to the Wall Street Journal, most low-income and struggling middle-class neighborhoods will be stricken more aggressively than affluent ones. One reason is that about 28 million people don’t have medical insurance and thus, most will not seek healthcare when the virus strikes. In addition, according to the US Department of Labor, more than 90% of the low-income workers cannot work from home when sick. And, 40% of these hourly-paid workers (32 million), who work pay-check-to-pay-check in restaurants, retail, childcare, etc., are exposed to the public and don’t have paid time off. So, many will send their children to school (sometimes sick), go to work sick themselves, and infect others. They simply don’t have any other choice: either stay home and not get paid or show up for work sick. Many businesses don’t have backup workers.
What are the symptoms of the new virus? Bloomberg News reports, “The new Coronavirus causes little more than a cough if it stays in the nose and throat, which it does for the majority of people. Danger starts when it reaches the lungs. One in seven patients develops difficulty breathing and other severe complications, while 6% become critical. These patients typically suffer failure of the respiratory and other vital systems, and sometimes develop septic shock, according to a report by last month’s joint World Health Organization-China mission.” A study by the Chinese CDC reported that, of the 44,672 confirmed virus cases they studied in China, 81% were mild like a cold or the flu. That’s great news! But the mortality rate for the virus in China (with 70,000 cases), which doesn’t have a well-developed healthcare system, was 2.3% versus the flu at .01%. Thus, the virus can be very deadly, especially with critical patients where 49% died. Those with mild or no symptoms (a carrier) in the US may consider the Coronavirus a cold or allergy and continue their daily lives infecting others without knowing it. In interviews with scientists, Bloomberg News reported, “About 10-15% of mild-to-moderate patients progress to severe and of those, 15-20% progress to critical. Patients at highest risk include people age 60 and older and those with pre-existing conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”
Will the new virus dissipate in the upcoming, warmer months as the flu does? Because this virus is so new, scientists don’t know the answer. If it diminishes, it could provide us with a brief reprieve to prepare for another outbreak which will most likely return in the fall.
Why is the stock market being devastated by the news of this virus? According to most economists, a new disease spreading around the world is significant. In fact, the word, Coronavirus, was mentioned 9,000 times in quarterly company earnings reports. It has the potential to disrupt supply chains, freeze or reduce consumer spending, and shut down factories. And with so many unknowns and fears amongst investors, stocks will react violently as we have witnessed over the last two weeks (the worse stock market since 2008!). Some economists say that a Recession may be imminent. Many retirees are panicking, witnessing their savings dwindle, and selling their stock while the market is down.
The Bottom Line: Gottlieb, a former Trump FDA commissioner, said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation” the U.S. is “past the point of containment and broad mitigation strategies.” “The next few weeks will change the complexion in this country,” said Gottlieb. “We’ll get through this, but it’s going to be a hard period. We’re looking at two months, probably, of difficulty.”
Our next article will focus on continuing to understand, prevent, and treat the Coronavirus. For the time being, be cautious but don’t panic! As a nation, we have been through many of these financial crises and virus storms. And, with God’s help, we will survive!
Visit Mike DuBose’s nonprofit website www.mikedubose.com for 100+ published articles on business, travel, retirement, and personal topics, and health columns written with Surb Guram, MD. You can secure a free copy of his book, The Art of Building a Great Business, based on his 30 years of experience with DuBose Family of Companies and the 100 bestseller business books he read. Mike is a retired staff member of the University of South Carolina’s graduate school.