Facebook Epidemiology

I’ll admit I’m getting just a wee bit impatient with the Epidemiology Experts of Facebook, and the constant barrage of posts comparing the Covid-19 outbreak to our annual Influenza outbreaks or the 2009 H1N1 Swine Flu epidemic. The standard argument posited takes one of two forms; since more people probably are killed by the annual influenza variety that sweeps through the nation, we’ve been whipped up into an irrational panic and are overreacting to Covid-19. The other one, taking a political bent, suggests that H1N1 was a pandemic that killed thousands, but we’re going crazy over Covid-19 merely because – well, Donald Trump’s in office and the “deep state” wants to discredit him.

Now, I respect the arguments that maybe the blanket shutdowns and stay-at-home orders across the nation could be more than was (or is) needed. There’s room for disagreement in every public policy decision. But as to there being “nothing to fear,” or a tin-foil-hat conspiracy afoot? With all due respect, Balderdash.

First – go back to the 2009-10 Swine Flu pandemic. Testing wasn’t great during that epidemic – the official worldwide confirmed case-count was “only” 1.8 million, but the experts figure that the flu eventually infected close to 700 million. Again, reporting wasn’t great in ’09-‘10, but the middle of the estimated range is 284,000 deaths from that outbreak. Compare that to where we are today – just five months into the Covid-19 pandemic. Confirmed global cases are past FOUR MILLION, and global deaths are already past 281,000 – in the same range as the entire “run” of the Swine Flu, and given a more aggressive testing protocol, probably a considerably higher death rate. Are we overreacting? Maybe. But certainly not much; this sucker is NO fun.

Next, consider this – we get a flu bug through here every darned year, and it kills a lot of people every darned year. But the annual, “routine” influenza is tracked early-on, and we almost ALWAYS have a vaccine that’s over 90% effective BEFORE the virus spreads very far. If I choose not a get my flu shot this year, catch the annual flu and die, it’s sad. I hope somebody will think it’s tragic. But I had the tools available to avoid GETTING it and declined. My lawyer friends would call that “contributory negligence.” Covid-19 popped up (out of a bat, out of a lab – take your pick) without giving us any lead time, and we’ll be lucky to have a vaccine by this fall – simply put, we’re defenseless for the moment and reasonable precautions to keep our highest risk citizens from getting it just makes sense. To talk about “acceptable death rates” is just morbid. A rate of ONE is unacceptable when you’re the victim, or it’s someone you love.

It’s too bad this pandemic is hitting us during an election season. Both parties are using it to score points with the electorate. Trump’s doing everything wrong, and the Democrats are trying to hamstring stimulus bills with pet projects. Yeah, yeah, yeah. As if POLITICS doesn’t happen every couple years. My best advice? Tune out the political bull, and use your head. With luck, we’ll get a vaccine as fast we did for the Swine Flu (there were millions of doses to that out by Thanksgiving), and we’ll begin to see this thing turn the corner for good. In the interim, let’s keep a little spacing between us, exercise caution with our higher-risk loved ones and TRY to pull together, shall we?

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