/ Letters / ‘Interesting to see the spin’?

‘Interesting to see the spin’?

April 17, 2020

To the Editor:

After reading the recent article covering the coronavirus entitled “Interesting to see the spin,” I was left wondering where was the spin. Although district administrator Jocelyn Smith did state “It’s just interesting to see the spin and the urgency that everyone’s feeling right now when most people don’t realize we’re checking in every day with the county nurse.”

It seems that the Centers for Disease Control and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, Oneida and Vilas County health officials and various school districts are operating in tandem to keep abreast of the latest developments. From what I read in the article, these diverse government entities are working together to implement current policies, lists of things that should be done, putting processes in place along with plans and protocols that should be followed.

What could be taken as “spin” was the article’s reference comparing the COVID-19 death rate to the seasonal flu death rate.

“The most recent coronavirus, now referred to as COVID-19, is a big news item these days. Originating in China, where more than 2,500 deaths have been reported, the virus has moved across the globe; in the United States as of (March 3) Tuesday morning, just over 100 cases had been reported and by that afternoon, there had been 10 deaths linked to COVID-19. By comparison, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, an estimated 18,000 to 45,000 people will die from influenza this winter.” This statement echoes a Trump tweet — “So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on ...”

This comparison is misleading because COVID-19 first appeared in the U.S. on Jan. 19, 2020 and seven weeks later we have over 700 confirmed cases and 26 deaths. We have to admit COVID-19 is just in its early stages and the attempts to contain its spread has slowed the infection rate. Whereas the total seasonal flu season lasts up to 21 weeks and so far, the CDC has estimated that at least 12,000 people have died between Oct. 1, 2019 through Feb. 1, 2020. The problem is that we don’t know how virulent and deadly this COVID-19 virus will be when it breaks out of containment. Other comparisons the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 had a profound virulence, with a mortality rate at >2.5%. The World Health Organization has said coronavirus COVID-19 has a mortality rate of 3.4%. And seasonal flu has a mortality rate of about 0.1% of those infected.

Anyway as of March 9, in the U.S. the number of confirmed coronavirus case has soared to 717 cases and the number of deaths has increased to 26 across 36 states. Not only the U.S. but the world’s faltering effort to contain the coronavirus outbreak led to a rout in stocks (when a drop of over 2,000 points triggered circuit breakers which stopped trading) as new cases across the globe amplified fears of a downturn. Adding to the anxiety the U.S. 10-year Treasury yield fell to a fresh all-time low and OPEC’s failure last week to strike a deal to cut production fanned concern of an all-out price war with Russia for market share which lead to an oil price drop of as 30%, driving crude to its lowest level in four years with WTI plummeting to $32.97, one of the worst drops since 1991.

Even with this uncertainty and turmoil, we can count on the spin and deceptive contradicting statements coming from the our President. Trump said the number of cases “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero. That’s a pretty good job we’ve done.” Wrong, the U.S. Surgeon General said that shifting from a containment to mitigation phase will be necessary. Communities will see more cases and need to start thinking about whether it makes sense to cancel large gatherings, close schools and make it more feasible for employees to work from home. “Globally, about 3.4% of reported COVID-19 cases have died,” Tedros Ghebreyesus, the director general of the WHO, said at a news conference in Geneva last week. Trump claimed that the WHO estimate was “false,” citing a “hunch” he had. “I think the 3.4% is really a false number — and this is just my hunch — but based on a lot of conversations with a lot of people.” Trump suggested that a vaccine for the coronavirus could be just a few months away. Experts say that it would be more than a year by the time a vaccine was developed, tested and “deployable” for public use. Trump has also repeatedly conflated the coronavirus with the seasonal flu, downplaying the severity of the new virus claiming that coronavirus “is like a flu.” Many experts have cautioned that the coronavirus is far different from influenza, especially because no vaccine is available, there is no innate immunity, it appears to be more contagious and more deadly than the flu. In a Fox interview, Trump suggested that people infected with the virus could still go to work and make full recoveries. This is in direct contrast to what the CDC has advised people to do. At a White House meeting he said, “There’s a theory that, in April, when it gets warm — historically, that has been able to kill the virus.” But, as many experts have pointed out, the coronavirus is a new virus, so health officials don't know what exactly will happen when temperatures increase. Two problems with his reasoning — there have been COVID-19 cases reported in Africa, South America and Australia and it will be winter soon across the southern hemisphere.

Am I worried? Yes! Why? After reading about how other countries are taking action to protect their citizens I worry that our federal government’s response is going to fall far short.

John Kocovsky




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