Editorial: Prevent, don't panic
The coronavirus is taking on the characteristics of a doomsday cult. Americans are huddling in their houses waiting for disaster to strike. Airports are empty, toilet paper is disappearing from store shelves, and Costco has stopped serving samples.
Wall Street is a full partner in the hysteria, following an awful previous week by jumping off the cliff Monday. Future events are being canceled even in places like Michigan, where COVID-19 has made its first confirmed appearance with two cases in Metro Detroit.
We for sure don’t want to be caught by surprise by a deadly, far-sweeping epidemic, or allow neglect to contribute to more illness and deaths. But is the preemptive panic really warranted?
No, says Dr. Abdu Sharkawy, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto, who is more worried about the response to COVID-19 than its lethality.
“What I am scared about is the loss of reason and wave of fear that has induced the masses of society into a spellbinding spiral of panic, stockpiling obscene quantities of anything that could fill a bomb shelter adequately in a post-apocalyptic world,” Sharkawy writes for Inside Sources.
“I’m scared those same epidemic fears will limit trade, harm partnerships in multiple sectors, business and otherwise, and ultimately culminate in a global recession.”
Those are reasonable fears, and perhaps the biggest threat, for the moment, presented by the virus. Extreme responses to an epidemic that has not yet materialized will ruin the economy and cause a lot of individual hardship, and may not do much to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The focus shouldn’t be so much on canceling large gatherings, closing schools and imposing large scale quarantines to fight the virus. Rather, take the common sense preventative steps such as handwashing, avoiding contact with others if you’re coughing and sneezing and ending — hopefully forever — the unsanitary practice of shaking hands as a greeting.
Given the importance of handwashing and cleanliness in fighting the virus, we think it makes sense that Mayor Mike Duggan and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer came up with a plan to restore water service to Detroit residents — and prevent shutoffs — for $25 a month as long as the threat of the virus lasts. This could help ward off wider spread of the disease.
The changing of the season may be the greatest weapon against the coronavirus. Most strains similar to COVID-19 begin subsiding starting in April and May as the weather warms. Whether this one will do the same is unknown, since it’s so new. But chances are strong it will take the summer off, providing time to prepare and prevent its strong return in the fall.
In China, where the virus originated and spread rapidly, reports are that the outbreak is stabilizing.
Again, quoting Dr. Sharkawy: “Temper fear with reason, panic with patience and uncertainty with education. We have an opportunity to learn a great deal about health hygiene and limiting the spread of innumerable transmissible diseases in our society.”
The virus has now spread to more than 35 states and Washington, D.C. Scientists are working urgently on cures and vaccines, and if past patterns hold, one will come.
It’s too soon to crawl under the bed and totally abandon daily routines while the COVID-19 kills the economy.