(For those who were unaware, I’ve been posting Roving Reporter coronavirus pieces on various Facebook group pages. Given their unexpected popularity, I’ve decided to post them here, too. Though this one may be tomorrow’s Quick Hits.)
FDR famously proffered it’s the only thing to fear. Gavin De Becker called it a gift! So, which is it? Much like the indeterminate fate of Schrodinger’s cat, it’s both!
If, while shopping at Meijer, someone gets a bit too close and your spider sense makes you reflexively back off, that fear is a good thing. But if you run down ten pregnant women and twelve small children in an effort to hoard the last eight packages of Charmin, that fear is a problem.
What distinctly separates Homo Sapiens from animals is our capacity to manage fear. My eldest dog Oreo’s survived hundreds of thunderstorms, but despite that repeated reality, she’ll tremble and stick to me like glue when the next one rolls around.
Trust me! I do understand that, when it comes to managing our instinctual trepidation, the media doesn’t make it easy! It’s like having to endure thunderstorm after thunderstorm after thunderstorm.
To wit, today’s CNN bold Net coronavirus headline blares, “U.S. cases soar by 40 percent,” which makes you want to cower in the crawlspace. Of course they did! When there are just 6,400 (reported) nationwide cases, all it takes is a mere 2,600 more for that number to jump by 40 percent.
And a great part of that spike is coronavirus test kits are suddenly becoming more available, but CNN doesn’t tell you that!
Think about it this way! If your local political campaign has ten volunteers, it’s not too terribly difficult to acquire four more. But if you have 100 helping hands, finding another forty is highly unlikely. We call it “the law of diminishing returns.”
So, when you’re in the early stages of a pandemic, those seemingly “soaring” increases are exactly what the experts expect. Even President Trump’s guy explained that, while the curve will inevitably rise, they’re counting on social distancing to flatten it and save our health care system.
But most of us don’t understand probability and that fear is compounded by the media consistently cherry picking outliers for the ratings spike. We like to think that, five heads in a row means there’s no shot of George Washington showing up a sixth time. But like it is with every flip of that shiny new quarter, there’s a 50 percent chance it will turn up heads.
If you want to better understand probably and the incredible Second Law of Thermodynamics, I’d highly recommend Brian Greene’s newest book, ‘Until the End of Time.’ The worst thing that can happen is it will take your mind off the pandemic.
He explains probability this way. If you shake a box of 100 pennies, there’s a remote possibility they’ll all turn up tails. If you shook the same box again, you’re a million times more likely to get 99 tails and one head. Shake it one more time and you have a billion billion billion better odds of seeing 50 tails and 50 heads.
But despite that irrefutable math, human nature inexplicably favors underdogs, bad bets and longshots. But now that we better understand probability, let’s take a closer look at China’s Hubei province where this whole thing started.
Of its 60 million inhabitants, only 68,000 caught the virus and that’s after China had completely botched their initial response. If you consider the number of unreported cases, that means just .2 percent of that province was infected.
Of those Hubei-ians with the coronavirus, only 3,122 perished. That puts the mortality rate at 4.6 percent or one in 23. Of those who died, 80 percent were 60 or older, and 75 percent of them had a preexisting condition like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
And here’s what the media doesn’t tell you! Hubei province has an incredible 45 percent smoking rate, and smokers do not fare well with the coronavirus. They also play host to some of the worst air pollution on the planet. So, even in a province where health care is iffy and almost half the population smokes, the average resident stood a .005 percent chance of dying from the disease.
And that number would further plummet if you counted the suspected number of unreported cases
Meanwhile, in the U.S., where our leaders chose not to fully prepare for it, we have 9,000 reported cases with 149 deaths. What that means is, the mortality rate, FOR PEOPLE WHO HAD THE DISEASE is 1.6 percent, less than half that of Hubei. Again, if we added the vast number of unreported cases due to lack of testing kits, it would likely be one-third that.
So, yes! American will die of the coronavirus. But if you’re under 65 with no preexisting condition and you don’t smoke, the odds of being one of ‘em are infinitesimal. “So, Jeff! It it’s not that bad, then why are we going through all the social distancing and shutting down stuff?”
That’s a great question! First, we’re trying to protect the elderly. Fifteen percent of our population is 65 or older, and if just five percent of them get sick, it will utterly overwhelm our hospitals and health care providers.
Our grandparents fought in World War I and survived the Spanish Influenza. Our parents survived the Great Depression and fought in World War II. And all we’re being asked to do is plant our butts on the couch and binge watch ‘Outlander?’ I’m not so sure the word “sacrifice” truly applies here.
Second, we’re trying to save health care workers’ lives. From what we’ve seen so far, the more you’re exposed to the coronavirus, the worse it will be when you catch it. My favorite medical source told me nurses are sending their children to live with relatives while wondering if they’ll ever see them again.
Now that you better understand the statistical realities, please let go of the irrational fear, keep up the social distancing, wash your hands, and show some real gratitude for those doctors, nurses, and grocery store clerks who are so selflessly serving on the front lines by doing your damndest to keep them healthy!