Opinion | Morgan Liddick: Blind coronavirus panic
On Your Right
“We have nothing to fear but fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror …”
Truer words than this phrase, turned by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his first inaugural address, have never been spoken. He said them in the depths of the Great Depression, an economic shock so great that it echoed for decades, changing the consumer behavior of my parents’ generation for its entire life. We should heed those words today as we stand balanced between hope and terror, bombarded by a 24-hour news cycle utterly obsessed by a disease that to date has killed fewer Americans than were struck by lightning last year and about two-thirds of the Chicagoans who have been shot to death so far in 2020.
The latest iteration of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a natural phenomenon. It’s apparently more contagious than members of the influenza virus complex, has a longer incubation period and usually manifests with a high fever. Early estimates of mortality rates based on partial reports out of China were scary: more than 3%, with death mostly taking older people with underlying medical conditions. But as more precise data was accumulated about numbers infected, that percentage declined smartly. During congressional testimony last week, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a prominent immunologist, suggested that the final mortality rate will be 1% or less. While this is fairly high, Fauci and others also noted that the impact of COVID-19 can be dramatically slowed by common hygiene practices for flu season: frequent hand-washing and sanitizing, care about touching one’s face and not glad-handing everyone in the room like an insurance salesman at an accountants’ convention.
From news reports, it now seems several groups are closing in on a vaccine for the virus; it’s also now clear that Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, had successfully developed an experimental vaccine for SARS — with MERS a very close relative of COVID-19 — in 2016 but testing and development were not funded. Would anyone now squalling about President Donald Trump’s “inadequate response” to the current outbreak care to tell us all who was president in 2016? This instance cautions that politicization of epidemiology can be a very sharp two-edged sword.
Some historical perspective, absent from the breathless dread in which the 24-hour news cycle traffics, is necessary for calm. In 1918-19 the world suffered a true modern pandemic: the so-called “Spanish flu,” which killed about 50 million people worldwide, 675,000 of them Americans. This was about four times as many Americans as died in World War I, in a population three times smaller than that today. More than two million of us would have to die of COVID-19 to even get close.
Then there’s the really bad one: Yersinia pestis, which appeared in Italy in 1348 and by December 1352 had smashed the known world. Social structures, economic and political systems, religious practices, even warfare — the Black Death radically altered them all by killing, in the estimation of many researchers, half of Europe’s population. Not content with a single pass, it reappeared for several encores until about 1800, by which time most Europeans had developed a partial immunity. Now that’s a pandemic worth worrying about.
So if COVID-19’s biological impact is so slight by comparison, why the panic-mongering? Because, to borrow a much-used phrase from Obama political advisor David Axelrod, one must “never let a crisis go to waste.” In the hate-powered logic of the left, the more fear generated, the more adverse effects, the wider spread of the disease, the better. Because finally here is the silver bullet, the magic incantation, the vorpal sword that will do away with Trump. And damn the consequences. Hence the neck-snapping turn from Democrats, beginning with California Rep. Ami Bera’s February complaint that the president’s China travel ban was racist and ending six weeks later with comments from Democratic leaders that the president was too slow to respond as they mandate businesses with fewer than 500 employees permanently grant their employees paid time off as a consequence of this ephemeral event. Why 500 or fewer, a number that neglects about 50 million workers? Ask Nancy Pelosi; it’s the Democrats’ bill. Perhaps this is the kind of thing that happens when one passes a bill to find out what’s in it.
After asking, stand in the breach against COVID-19. Wash your hands. With soap.
Morgan Liddick’s column “On Your Right” publishes Tuesdays in the Summit Daily News. Liddick spent 27 years working for the U.S. Foreign Service, primarily living abroad. He also spent 12 years teaching U.S. history and Western civilization at community colleges in Colorado and Texas. He lived in Summit County as recently as 2015. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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