Welcome to the Coronavirus world. It’s kind of quiet.
A long, long time ago in a place far, far away, I found myself as the designated sucker being sent to disaster recovery seminars to discuss what would happen if the Bird Flu turned into a pandemic. I learned two important things: 1) a pandemic will come, and 2) we won’t be able to contain it.
My son likes to joke that one of the strange symptoms appears to be an irresistible urge to travel. It also appears to have a hypnotic effect to compel people to buy large quantities of toilet paper.
In all seriousness, we should be treating the virus seriously. There are roughly 330,000,000 Americans. Assuming just a 5% infection rate (a low percentage), that’s 16,500,000 infected. A 1% to 2% death rate (much worse than the flu) means 165,000 to 330,000 people dead. I would say it’s reasonable to be concerned enough to prevent that from happening.
By comparison, since too many pundits are equating this to the flu, the influenza outbreak in 2009 killed 12,469 people according to the Center for Disease Control.
My numbers are actually small compared to what some experts are predicting. The New York Times reports that we could have 96 million people infected, 5 million hospitalized, 2 million in intensive care, and 480,000 dead.
Which means, yes, the government is going to do some things we don’t like to try to control the outbreak. That means shutting down schools and banning large gatherings. And shutting down schools would be better sooner than later.
The Washington Post does an excellent job of explaining why it’s necessary. Slowing the spread of the disease means making the caseloads manageable. Remember those disaster recovery seminars? I learned there that we don’t have enough hospital beds, especially beds in Intensive Care Units, for a pandemic. We still don’t. Keeping the spread of the virus to a manageable level means a higher survival rate. Not “flattening the curve” means a hospital scene out of Gone With The Wind.
None of this justifies the panic hoarding, whether it’s toilet paper or ammo or toothbrushes. But it does mean we should be concerned, take the proper precautions, and be ready to accept that your favorite bar might not be open on St. Patrick’s Day.
What it also means is that, rather than blaming the media for the hysteria, we should be careful about ignoring the science to engage in reckless behavior.
Way too many on the right are being dismissive of the spread of the Coronavirus, to the point where they are encouraging others to be reckless in their behavior. Conservative talk radio, including Rush Limbaugh, keeps trying to minimize the disease. Unfortunately, too many people on social media are repeating those talking points, including some that want to be conservative leaders of the future.
This disease is not a conspiracy to defeat President Donald Trump in November. It is not a conspiracy by the mass media to scare the hell out of you. It is not a plan to cancel elections or crash the economy. It’s a real disease with real consequences.
Even if you’re young, healthy, and likely to be unaffected by the virus, you can carry it to those who are vulnerable to the ravages of the disease. It’s completely irresponsible to pretend that we’re somehow “overreacting” to try prevent the casualty figures I listed above.
The Coronavirus will kill people. But how many? And will we take the steps necessary to reduce the number of deaths?
I don’t know if Governor Tony Evers will decide to close the state’s bars and restaurants, or if he should. I suspect, if he does, there will be a legal challenge. However, a quick glance at the law (and precedent) says Evers will be well within his authority to make that decision. If he does, I hope Republican leaders will not try to make this a political issue.
The irony is that, if the precautions are successful and the number of deaths are kept to a minimum, the critics will say they were right that the desire to shut down public events was an overreaction. We’ll never know for sure. I’m willing to live with them saying “I told you so” if it means more will live.
But it’s likely that all of the travel bans, event cancellations, school closings and other closings will help control the outbreak. Let’s not be reckless and pretend that life should continue as normal until the outbreak is controlled.
On a business level, I strongly suggest you follow the advice of our friend Brian Fraley at Edge Messaging, who stresses the importance of having a communications strategy.
On a personal level, follow the advice of the Center for Disease Control about social distancing. Wash your hands. Reconsider organizing public gatherings.
But most important, let’s take care of each other. Look after those who are most vulnerable (even if it’s just by phone or social media), help family and friends with children at home from school, and support local restaurants by placing a few “to go” orders. While the children are home, don’t unleash them in the shopping malls and water parks.
Life will again return to normal, but it will take time, patience and sacrifice. In the meantime, let’s remember that we’re all in this together.