What’s Scarier than the Coronavirus?

Regardless of what you think of the coronavirus, one thing we might all agree on is that it’s brought out the worst in us. The amount of fear, racism, and sheer panic that have exploded is the stuff of a Stephen King novel. But a lot of this is stemming from a matter of perspective and perspective is influenced by information. I’m not a medical expert by any means so I’m not claiming to have all the answers or understand all the information. But I do want to share some data that has been released in an attempt to better inform people.


At the core of this issue is the question: is this virus really that big a deal?


It turns out that this question isn’t as simple as it sounds. What most people are doing is comparing coronavirus to the flu and saying that it’s not that bad because the flu kills more people than corona does. Here’s why that’s misleading. 


FACT: this year alone, the flu has killed up to 55,000 people in the U.S.

FACT: as of March 12th, 2020 the coronavirus has killed 38 people in the U.S.


It’s easy to assume, therefore, that the flu is more dangerous. But there are other factors to consider.


First, the flu has been around a LOT longer than the coronavirus has, over 500 years. Second, the flu infects a lot more people than the coronavirus does.


CORONAVIRUS: 1,323 cases in the U.S.

FLU:  51 million cases in the U.S. this year


So since the flu infects more people, it’s natural that it would kill more people. Therefore, the real question isn’t who has killed more people, but who’s more effective at killing people? And that’s where the mortality rate comes in. 


If we do the math from the above numbers, 55,000 flu deaths in the U.S. out of 51 million flu cases gives us a mortality rate of .1%. In comparison, 38 coronavirus deaths in the U.S. out of 1,323 cases gives us a mortality rate of 2.87%, almost 3 times that of the flu. See why it’s misleading to say the flu kills more people? It does, but that doesn’t mean it’s deadlier. To put it another way, it’s like saying that cars kill more people every year than guns do, so therefore, cars are more dangerous than guns. Not necessarily. 


So don’t be so quick to write this virus off just because the flu has killed more people. There’s a reason scientists are worried and it’s because of that mortality rate and because no one knows what the heck to do with this virus. We have a flu vaccine, but we don’t have a coronavirus one yet.

But all that being said, even though coronavirus may be deadlier than the flu, is it the deadliest ever? Does it warrant us running through the streets like our heads have been chopped off? Should we be hunkering down in fallout shelters and waiting for the apocalypse? Is this the next Black Plague? Again, perspective is influenced by information. Since we’ve been comparing diseases, measles has a mortality rate of 15% and Ebola’s mortality rate ranged from 25%-90%. We got through both of those so chances are we will get through this. And lo and behold, more people have recovered from the virus than have died. So this tells us that even though the coronavirus is serious, it’s literally not the end of the world. 


To sum it all up so far, you shouldn’t write this virus off because it really is serious. But you also shouldn’t panic, because it’s not destroying the world. 


Now, that being said, there is something else to consider in all this. We’ve heard that the majority of deaths have been victims who are over 50 or who have pre-existing health conditions. While it can be comforting to realize that you’ll be fine because you’re not sick or elderly, there’s a sinister assumption that creeps up. When we say the coronavirus isn’t a big deal because it only kills the sick and elderly, we’re saying that it’s okay to kill the sick and elderly. And that, my friends, is called euthanasia.


I will admit that I too, felt comfort knowing that I was probably okay. I even tried to reassure my mother that her panic was unnecessary because she’s healthy. But then my wife reminded me that my parents are senior citizens. And I remembered that my grandmother is in a nursing home. It only seems like it’s not a big deal if you don’t have anyone in your life who could be affected. 


At the risk of stirring up more controversy, think of how different things would be if the virus was only killing a different minority group–black people. Now imagine that everyone else was saying, “People are overreacting. This thing only kills black people.” That would be racist. But when it’s the sick and elderly, it’s easier to write it off because who cares about them?

And that’s what I think is scarier than the coronavirus. At every turn, it’s been revealing how terrible we really are, that we as a society are just racists looking for excuses to beat up Asians, that we’re self-centered narcissists willing to horde limited resources at the expense of others, and that we have little to no regard for the sick and elderly. If this pandemic continues, my fear is what other strains of evil it will reveal in us. 



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