We understand why a lot of people are on edge about the new coronavirus, now called COVID-19, that has erupted in China and spread to a number of countries. Any time there’s a new disease it’s scary. Combine that with the ease by which this one appears to jump from one person to another, the deaths reported from it, and the lack of a vaccine, and it’s understandable people would get jumpy.
But there’s also good reason to step back, take a breath, and look at the situation without hype. That’s what Lynelle Diers and the Wapello County Public Health office tried to get people to do with a statement this week.
There’s plenty of talk about the new virus, but a tremendous amount of it is based less on science than fear. Rumors can’t replace reality. And, when there’s the level of concern there is with this virus, there are a lot of rumors going around.
That’s why we talked to Diers earlier this month about the virus. Iowans would do better to be concerned about the flu right now than COVID-19. This year’s flu season is worse than last year, and that virus has killed more people than the coronavirus outbreak.
Given that, why are people much more worried about coronavirus than the flu? It comes down to familiarity in many cases. Most people have had the flu. We all know how it feels and how to deal with it. When a new virus comes on the scene, we don’t have that experience to fall back on, and it’s only human for the unfamiliar to feel more threatening.
Diers made an important point in this week’s statement. She noted that there is plenty of misinformation, especially on social media. Those rumors shouldn’t be taken for expertise.
“It’s important for Wapello County residents to rely on trusted sources of information like the CDC, IDPH and our public health agency,” Diers said.
The Iowa Department of Public Health said, as of Wednesday, there were 28 people being monitored in the state for possible exposure to the new virus. All were asymptomatic — they had no symptoms. Two people have been tested specifically for the virus. Both were negative.
We’re not saying people should not be concerned. Any time a new virus emerges it has the potential to be dangerous. That concern must be tempered with the insights available from experts, though, and an acquaintance’s third cousin’s aunt on Facebook doesn’t fit that category.
The best advice from experts remains the same. Wash your hands. Cover your cough, preferably with your elbow rather than your hand. If you feel sick, stay home. If you haven’t gotten a flu shot yet, get one.
Keep in mind that China, the epicenter of the disease thus far, is not Iowa. It’s not next door and it’s not particularly easy for people to get from one location to the other. That’s particularly true given the quarantines in place there and many travel companies’ suspension of services.
Is COVID-19 something to be aware of? Yes. Is it a concern? Sure. Is it an imminent threat to the health and well-being of Iowans? Not at this time.
We’ll worry when Diers and other experts say it’s time to worry. For now, we’ll lay off the rumors.