Yes, I’m going to call it that despite the outcry about using that descriptor. It has long been common to name diseases after where they were first identified. The list of examples is long. German Measles, Spanish Flu, Rocky Mountain Fever, Lyme Disease (named after Lyme Connecticut), Ebola (named after the Ebola river), and on and on and on. There’s nothing “racist” about it. But the Chinese Communist Party declared it’s “racist” and their willing collaborators in government and the media go along with it. (I’m kind of partial to “Winnie the Flu” since that is tailor made to annoy Xi Jinping.)
First off, I consider the panic about it overblown. This is not the disaster that some folk have been painting. (Yes, Italy has been bad but I’ll get to that shortly.) And there’s nothing about it that requires people to grab years supplies of toilet paper. Really. Diarrhea isn’t even a symptom. A couple weeks supply, a month at most, and you’re golden. Really.
On the other hand, some people have been utterly dismissive of it. “It’s no worse than the flu” they say. And now we get to Italy.
First off, let me be clear that Italy is not a good “model” for what results are likely to be in the United States. Italians tend to keep very close personal space, as in, next to none. They engage in a lot more casual physical touch than is generally considered comfortable in American society. this facilitates the spread of diseases like the Wuhan Coronavirus. However, the real issue can be seen here:
Note that this is “per 100,000” so that the US has just about five times Italy’s population has already been corrected for. The simple fact is, America has the facilities to care for a larger proportion of its population in need of critical care than is Italy. The closest anyone comes to the US capacity is Germany. A large part of the problem in Italy is that their facilities were overwhelmed–more cases needing critical care than they had beds to handle. What was an overwhelming crisis in Italy will be “a bit busy” in the US.
Now, this is not to say that the situation in Italy is not informative. To the best of my knowledge, seasonal flu does not generally swamp Italy’s medical systems. And so, while the fact that it is a crisis in Italy does not mean that it will be such a crisis here, nevertheless, I think it does point to Wuhan Coronavirus being worse than seasonal flu and probably even worse than the 2009 H1N1 strain.
So how much worse? To consider that, let’s look at the Grand Princess cruise ship. They had the disease aboard in a fairly closed environment. Despite the best efforts of the crew, the ship was simply not equipped to fully isolate passengers from each other or from the crew. Crew still ate in common and still had to interact with passengers if only to deliver food and other necessary goods. We have 21 confirmed cases of Coronavirus on the Grand Princess. Most of the passengers who didn’t show obvious symptoms declined testing. Even with the attempts at isolation, we can pretty much presume that everyone on the ship was exposed. Still 290 tests, 21 cases. Given the situation on the ship despite efforts at isolation we can pretty much assume that everybody was exposed, that gives an infection rate of just under 10% and we can go ahead and round up to that Estimates of death rates from those infected range from 0.5% to upwards of 8%. Those higher rates, however, tend to be coupled with inadequate medical care (not enough beds to treat more serious cases–see Italy up above) and with older patients with other underlying health issues. Also, those figures do not count minor cases which are never recognized as Wuhan Coronavirus. The person thinks they have a cold, or even don’t show symptoms at all, and goes on about their life. And I am, perhaps, less inclined to dismiss the “older with other underlying health issues”. After all, I am older (pushing 60) with other underlying health issues (diabetes). All told, however, that 0.5% is probably closer to an upper bound, in a developed country with adequate facilities for critical care, than the higher numbers.
Still, at worst case then, we’re talking about a total of 30 million cases in the US and 15,000 deaths. That’s somewhat worse than the 2009 H1N1 epidemic, but not much.
So, yes, some caution and care is justified. The current panic, not so much. So wash your hands, people. You should be doing that anyway. And if you’re sick, stay home so as not to infect other people. Beyond that? You’re good. Really.
And once you’ve got more than a couple weeks’ supply of toilet paper, you really don’t need to get any more. Honest. They’ll make more.