This week’s statement from Wapello County Public Health on coronavirus fears was clear and warranted. At its heart, the message was that awareness and vigilance are warranted, but panic is not.
Knowing the facts about the virus helps. The reality is that the majority of cases are mild. That’s one of the reasons this virus has been so hard to contain. It’s easier to identify people who have a virus when they’re obviously sick rather than walking around with the occasional cough.
Some people clearly get hit a lot harder. As of Wednesday there had been nine deaths in the United States tied to the virus. That worries a lot of people, and understandably so. One of the best estimates from experts is that the virus has a mortality rate of about 2 percent. That’s from Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. It means the virus is more lethal than the flu, which has a mortality rate of less than 1 percent.
Fauci has been on the front lines of American disease outbreaks for more than a generation, and his comments underscore how much scientists are still trying to learn. He said there is still considerable uncertainty about how many asymptomatic cases there are — how many times someone gets the virus but doesn’t develop symptoms. That makes it harder to pin down the mortality rate. More asymptomatic cases, and the rate goes down. Fewer, and it goes up.
How dangerous the virus is to any given person also depends on the person’s health at the time they contract it. Several of those who have died are known to have had serious, underlying issues.
Public health officials in Washington state said after the first deaths there that they believe the virus was present for about six weeks before cases were found. That suggests known cases trail far behind the actual number, and the virus may be much more widespread than we currently know. Proactive testing, like that advocated by Fauci, could help establish a better picture.
It seems there is a reasonable chance it is already in Iowa, though no cases have been confirmed. The Iowa Department of Public Health has placed a page on its website to track testing and results. It should surprise no one when that page confirms the first Iowa case.
The local advice remains largely unchanged from previous updates. Wash your hands well and do so frequently. Be mindful of your surroundings. Avoid people who are obviously sick and, if that’s you, stay home.
Is the situation serious? Yes. Is it scary? Absolutely. We’re nervous, just like everyone else.
We doubt there are many people who don’t feel a twinge of anxiety when someone in their office or classroom coughs these days. That’s a very human reaction. There’s a lot we still don’t know, and that can lead to fear.
We’ll relay what we hear from trusted health experts, including those at the local and state level. We encourage you to check official health departments’s websites for updates as well.
It’s not fear-mongering to say this is a serious public health concern. But getting the best information possible can help tame fears and give you facts you know you can trust.