By Olivia Montes
Elm Staff Writer
The news remains plagued with the troubling revelations of a previously unknown disease, coronavirus. After originating in Wuhan, China, it began spreading like wildfire just as soon as signs of the disease became public knowledge.
As last reported on Feb. 2 by the World Health Organization, the death toll for the virus has spiked to 362, with over 17,000 people affected with its common cold-like symptoms, including high fevers, fatigue, and congestion. Sheltered within the confinements of crowded hospital rooms, they are awaiting a cure to be discovered within the next few weeks or so before any more people succumb to the illness.
While this health concern currently exists as a serious matter in our modern world, at the same time, we should not allow the idea of a pandemic to consume our every thought and action.
The focus of the United States’ media coverage right now is to publicize how quickly the misunderstood disease is spreading and why.
“Just a month ago, this virus, called 2019-nCoV, was unknown to science,” Brian Resnick of VOX Media said on Feb. 3. “Now, health officials are working furiously to understand it, trying to prevent…a larger global spread of an infection.”
There needs to be time to properly inform individuals how to effectively protect themselves from contracting the disease rather than immediately conclude that this is a pandemic — and thus cause a mass panic.
The coronavirus itself, categorized as a contagious collection of familial viruses including SARS, MERS, and 2019-nCoV, all of which are known to infect humans, targets the respiratory system. The disease primarily spreads via oral contact with — or in Wuhan’s case, consumption of — animals and continues to spread when an unprotected individual surrounded by those already showing signs of illness.
It is because of how contagious this illness is that several countries, including Australia, Malaysia, Russia, and Singapore, have already concealed themselves from allowing those from China to enter their borders. They issued mandatory check-ups to those who have recently returned with any physical signs of infection; those who have are soon after quarantined for further examination.
While this appears to be a reason for panic, the actual count for individuals outside of China who have contracted the disease remains fairly low. As of last week, 11 cases of the disease have been confirmed within the United States — three in the state of California — but remain small in comparison to over 17,200 reported cases in Wuhan.
According to Julia Belluz of VOX Media, only six cases outside of China have been reported and are currently under control, with the overall risk factor of it consuming the entire rest of the unprotected planet.
“The World Health Organization (WHO)’s declaration of a ‘public health emergency of international concern’, or PHEIC, does not mean this will become a deadly pandemic,” Belluz said on Feb. 3.
“Once more of these mild or asymptomatic cases are discovered, this virus could look a lot less scary,” she said.
When shown lines of people shoulder-to-shoulder looking sickly and pale, strapped with layers of surgical masks on their faces, healthy viewers begin to frantically prepare for the disease in case the virus becomes their reality in the immediate future. This includes stocking up on surgical masks of their own to prevent exposure.
However, this and several other similar methods, according to The New York Times’ Donald G. McNeil Jr., prove to be ineffective.
“During the West African Ebola outbreak in 2014, when a few cases turned up in the United States, some hospitals were unable to get waterproof Tyvek suits [because of a dramatic shortage due to mass hysteria],” McNeil said.
“[Now] even though there are only five cases of Wuhan coronavirus in the United States, the mask hoarding has begun; although masks actually do little to protect healthy people, the prospect of shortages created by panic buying worries some public health experts,” he said.
It is because of the information viewers outside of China receive about the coronavirus like others are beginning to prepare for an outpouring of coughing and sneezing that no one has ever experienced before — even before any clear signs of an outbreak have been proven. The Chinese government has even criticized the United States media for exaggerating the conditions of those infected as they continue to find a proper cure.
This does not mean that this particular virus should be swept aside because of the lack of potential risk; in fact, quite the opposite. Coronavirus should remain treated with all the seriousness of any severe outbreak we have faced in the past two decades of the century.
We should not overlook this epidemic, but we also should not rely on others finding a successful cure, either. Worst-case scenario, the coronavirus will not easily be ‘eradicated’ from human existence. Similar to cases of the flu and Zika virus, it will continue to affect others. Some will recover, while others will perish — if this should be the case, this will become the possible balance humanity must face.
But, if research on the disease continues to evolve along with the virus itself, we will slowly witness a decrease in severe cases, and eventually, its demise.
“Disease outbreaks are a bit like fires: the virus is the flame [and] susceptible people are the fuel,” Resnick said. “Eventually, a fire burns itself out if it runs out of kindling.”