How worried are you about the coronavirus?
How worried should you be?
In a few short months, the disease has spread to more than 100 countries, almost 120,000 cases, more than 4,000 deaths. And that’s just since December when it was first detected in China.
We’ve had two local scares — when the federal government made plans to bring infected patients to McClellan’s Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston (President Trump reversed that plan); and when two Jacksonville State students returned to campus after having been in contact with someone in Georgia who tested positive for the virus (those students were self-quarantined and have shown no signs of the virus).
The disease has been compared to the flu, another respiratory illness that kills thousands of Americans annually.
The difference is that there’s a vaccine for the flu. There is no vaccine for coronavirus. Also, the coronavirus at this point appears to be deadlier than the flu. The death rate for the flu is 0.1%, while the death rate for coronavirus is somewhere between 1% and 3%.
The professionals in charge recommend that we should be concerned but that we shouldn’t freak out. Prepare, but don’t panic.
Wash your hands. Cover your sneezes and coughs. Don’t go to work if you‘re sick.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also recommended that we stock up on a couple weeks of non-perishable food and supplies like toiletries, just in case large-scale quarantine becomes necessary to contain the disease; plan for childcare in case your child’s school closes; avoid cruises; and routinely wipe down common surfaces with disinfectant, among other things.
But once you’re prepared, what about the preparedness of those we count on to protect us?
As of this writing last week, there were no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Alabama, but the virus spreads quickly — every one person infected passes the virus to two or three others — so preparing early is vital.
That’s why we’re asking public officials about their plans for local events with large gatherings — events like the spring race at Talladega SuperSpeedway and the Noble Street Festival in Anniston. The World of Works Career Expo that was scheduled for this week in Oxford was postponed out of precaution. Almost 8,000 eighth- through 11th-graders were expected.
But when a media colleague Kyle Whitmire at AL.com asked Secretary of State John Merrill what preparations were being made to protect voters during the upcoming runoff election, Merrill refused to talk about it.
“The story that you’re thinking about writing is not even important,” he said.
Rather than share the plan — if there is one — some officials are blaming the media for those who overreact to the spread of the coronavirus. Therefore, they believe it’s better to withhold planning details than to inform the people they’re charged with protecting.
Fortunately, Michael Barton, director of the Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency, has taken a polar opposite approach. He even visited The Anniston Star office this past week for a no-holds-barred interview about local preparations for the coronavirus.
We realize that some people will overreact or even panic in response to any coronavirus news. This past week, columnist Phillip Tutor discovered it’s next to impossible to find hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes or medical face masks in Calhoun County, even though the experts have said soap and water works better and that masks are only needed if you’re already sick.
But giving people as much information as possible is also the reason so many people are NOT panicking. Students at JSU, for instance, say they have “zero concern” about the virus.
Our philosophy here at Consolidated Publishing, and in the media in general, is to trust you with more information, not less.
We can’t control how you respond, but we know it’s only when you have good information that you can disregard bad information and make good decisions about how to best protect yourself and your family.
That’s why we’ve created a free page on our website — www.annistonstar.com/coronavirus — where you will find all of our local coronavirus coverage.
We’ll continue asking probing questions to help you understand how to prepare and to let you know what your state and local officials are doing to be prepared. Whether they choose to respond like Barton or like Merrill is something only they can control.
We’ll tell you whatever they tell us. Whether you choose to prepare or to panic is something only you can control.