Thursday, March 12, 2020

Politicizing a Virus

Putting the Panic in Pandemic!

The Corona Virus thing has gotten out of control.  Not the disease itself, but the politics and panic surrounding it.  If you are living in a nursing home, and your caregiver just came back from China, you have something to worry about.  Then again, at age 89 you probably don't have too many worries left.   You know you are going to die of something - likely a flu or cold virus that morphs into a bacterial infection, pneumonia, and death.   That's how the end game works.   This new Corona Virus is just the latest in a series of Corona Viruses that take out the elderly every year.

It is funny, but no one seems to freak out about that.  No one takes precautions during cold and flu season.  And every year, scores of elderly die from complications related to these ordinary events. "There is no cure for the common cold" goes the old saying, but for some reason, we are freaking out over this latest iteration of it.

Sadly, politicians and the news media are to blame for most of this panic.   People on the Left and Right want to accuse the other of "not doing enough" to "save lives" while the media gleefully counts up their dollars in click-through revenue and Nielsen ratings.  This is more exciting than some dumb old election, that's for sure!

The actions taken are almost worse that the virus itself.   Rather than quarantine old folks' homes, politicians are quarantining entire countries, making everybody sit indoors for a week or two (or a month?).  I am not sure this is accomplishing anything.  (Note:  some elderly care centers are indeed doing the right thing here, and some smarter politicians are calling for limiting visits to the elderly).

But it brings up the question, why don't we do this every year when a new strain of cold or flu virus comes out?   The answer is a little crass, but how our society works:  the cost of quarantining everyone for such an event is not justified by the death rate caused by colds and flus.   I guess 3% is the threshold that you need to start taking a readily transmissible virus seriously.

The problem is, odds are a lot of people have this virus already.   It is easily spread and asymptomatic in many people - or may be mistaken for seasonal colds, flu, or allergies.  Even if we quarantine certain sections of the country - or the world - the cat is already out of the bag.  Every day now, we hear about some new government official or celebrity who has the virus - Tom Hanks and his wife being the latest.   I am sure Mr. Hanks isn't going to die from this.  In a few days, he will be over it and no longer a carrier of it.  And his immune system will have adjusted to this new intruder and likely make him immune to re-infection.   Well, let's hope, anyway.

That really is the "cure" for the virus.  Once everyone who has gotten it has gotten it, those who survive (the pitiful 97%) will be immune to it, and it will stop spreading.  Quarantines are nice and all, but only insure that many folks are never exposed to the virus, and will be prime targets for re-infection down the road.  I predict this - once the initial infection has subsided, we will see a second wave of infections targeting those who were not infected previously. The second time around, however, I suspect that people will be less paranoid about it.

What is really distressing about this, isn't the specter of a world-wide devastating disease - because it isn't.  It is that we cannot trust our governments, our media, and other public agencies to act in a rational manner that isn't tainted by politics or panic. After Democrats criticized Trump for "not doing enough!" to stop the virus, today Trump does too much and quarantines the entire United States from Europe, cancelling all flights overseas, effectively.  If this doesn't bankrupt yet one more airline, I don't know what will.

Meanwhile, Trump wants to enact yet more tax cuts and lower interest rates further to gin up the economy until after the fall election.   He criticizes Democrats for not doing enough.  It seems he is more concerned about the effect of the virus on the Dow than on people - or so Democrats will claim, of course.  The Corona Virus has become a political football, with each side pointing fingers at the other.

But of course, this is nothing new.  Hurricane Katrina was soundly politicized, with people characterized as "victims" of this storm more than a decade after it happened.   People who didn't buy flood insurance were called "victims" as were people in the recent panhandle hurricane, who failed to buy low-cost flood insurance even though they were zoned "X" (the lowest rating - a few hundred a year at most!  Ask me how I know!).   Their pathetic response:  "Well, since I wasn't required to get insurance, I didn't bother getting it!"    And now you know why Obamacare had a mandate provision - left to their own devices, people act helpless as kittens and then expect everyone else to bail them out.

Now, of course, it is possible that I could get this Corona Virus - and perhaps I already did.  Like I said, I had a really bad cold a couple of weeks ago.  But that could have just been pollen (which blankets our truck like a layer of yellow snow).  If you cough or sneeze today, however, you are treated as a leper and people freak out - as two recently did on a United flight.   The media has convinced people that this is a "killer virus" but only explain in footnotes that the real risk is to the very old and infirm.

Perhaps a better approach to quarantining the entire country would be to quarantine the elderly - voluntarily, of course.    That would actually save more lives and disrupt the world economy far less.   And yes, this is a crass economic calculation - one that we make every year, as cold and flu season rolls around.

The Corona Virus is a variation of a cold virus - albeit slightly more deadly.  Why are we panicking is beyond me.  This is hardly the end of humanity as we know it.  Months from now, we will look back and laugh and wonder what the fuss is all about.

And years from now, a real pandemic - a deadly one - will occur, and no one will pay attention to the boys-who-cried-wolf.