The cause for concern is justified. But, as in most major disasters, tragedies, and public health threats, there are reasons for hope, and even optimism. They may be hard to see, even if you’re a “cup-half-full” or “it could always be worse” type of person. But they are there. Here are a few.
The good news about the coronavirus pandemic
- Most people with COVID-19 recover. Estimates now suggest that 99% of people infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 will recover. Some people have no symptoms at all. And while thousands of people have died, the overall death rate is about 1% (or perhaps even lower), far less than MERS (about 34%), SARS (about 11%), or Ebola (90%), though higher than the average seasonal flu (0.1%).The loss of life related to this illness is terrible and far more cases are expected, but based on the fatality rates alone, it could be far worse.
- Children seem to be infected less often and have milder disease. According to the CDC, the vast majority of infections so far have afflicted adults. And when kids are infected, they tend to have milder disease. For kids and their parents, that’s good news. However, it’s important to note that children can develop infection. A recent study from China early in the outbreak demonstrated that a small number of kids, especially infants and toddlers, can develop serious infection. As is true generally, it’s likely that kids can spread infection in the absence of symptoms, though how often this happens is unclear. It’s perplexing, though fortunate, that this new coronavirus does not behave the way so many other illnesses do, in which the elderly and the young are particularly vulnerable.
- The number of new cases is falling where the outbreak began. During his speech declaring the new coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, the director-general of the WHO pointed out that “China and the Republic of Korea have significantly declining epidemics.” In fact, Wuhan province (site of the very first cases) has just reported no new local cases for the first time since the outbreak began. The only new cases were “imported” from travelers arriving there. While actual numbers are hard to verify, and the methods these countries used to contain infection, such as aggressive diagnostic testing and strict isolation measures, are unlikely to be practical or acceptable everywhere, if the number of new cases in China is truly declining, that’s a good thing and suggests that efforts to contain the spread of this infection can be successful.
- The internet exists. We currently have ways to practice social distancing that preserve at least some social and medical connections. People in isolation or quarantine can ask for help, visit friends, “see” family and doctors virtually, and provide updates on their condition.
- Our response to future pandemics should improve. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed shortcomings in healthcare systems throughout the world that provide an opportunity to improve them. For example, a faster global response, better and quicker distribution of testing kits, and more coordinated and coherent public messaging should be expected the next time around. (No guarantees, of course.)
- Many people and organizations have stepped up to improve the situation. In the US, for example:
- Some major health insurers have promised to cover care and testing related to COVID-19.
- A number of celebrities and professional athletes have donated significant resources to help those taking a financial hit by the pandemic, such as the workers at the stadiums where athletes play.
- Newly approved legislation provides paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave for some American workers, free testing for people without insurance, and added funding to states for Medicaid.
- There are innumerable stories of people helping each other out — here’s one I particularly like.
The bottom line
Make no mistake: the new coronavirus epidemic is a big problem that’s expected to become bigger in the weeks and months to come. For those who are infected as well as those trying to avoid infection, these are trying times. But amid all the doom and gloom, there are some positive stories, positive messages and reasons to remain hopeful.
At a time when the citizenry of this country is so politically divided, we can also hope that this threat brings us together in ways that help us to better recognize commonalities: we’re all human, we get sick, and we worry about loved ones. As social creatures, we try to help one another when bad things happen. If that happens, it would be good news that could not have been foreseen before the pandemic.
Follow me on Twitter @RobShmerling