The price of apathy

By Conor Kelly

The last couple of days have been a roller coaster, to put it lightly. Media outlets are warning about the risks of the new virus known as the Coronavirus (COVID-19), triggering some states to shut down their public schools. Colleges are following suit, closing closing their doors and sending students home. Amid such drastic and overwhelming times, it is easy for people to panic needlessly. Still, that doesn’t mean we should not take this virus seriously, as apathy to the challenges we face can be just as deadly as panic.

When faced with a pandemic, there tends to be an unusual disruption of public and private life, prompting many people to demand answers. It is only natural for people to want to know why something so chaotic is happening to them, but others have a tendency to display another response: apathy. There are those who would have us believe that the virus is no big deal and that the pandemic we now face is no worse than the common flu we deal with every year.

Political commentator and pundit, Sean Hannity, downplayed the threat of Coronavirus when interviewing Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. Just days before President Trump declared a National Emergency, he tweeted similar sentiments.

“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 and the economy goes on. At this moment, there are 546 confirmed cases of Coronavirus with 22 deaths. Think about that!” Trump’s tweeted.

This argument was and is fundamentally flawed. It ignores the fact that the Institute for Disease Modeling found that the Coronavirus has a similar level of transmissibility as the 1918 flu epidemic, albeit slightly lower in severity. This denial serves only to downplay the severity of the illness we now face and is self-defeating, as the total amount of infected people is growing rapidly, and so will the death rate.

To put this in perspective, the CDC reported that as of March 17 COVID-19 reached a death rate of 1.7 percent with 4,226 confirmed cases and 75 deaths. Compare these rates to the death rates for influenza, which has a death rate of about .1 percent, and the difference becomes clear. While these numbers are subject to change, it is still worth pointing out that this disease, unlike the flu, is an enigma to us and is far deadlier; it should not be taken lightly.

Those who downplay the severity of this pandemic have consistently argued that the virus only affects those people who are immuno-compromised and old, but that it will not be a big deal for everyone else. The problem with this argument, aside from disregarding the well-being of the elderly and immuno-compromised people, is that these people are far more prevalent in our society than anyone can deny or care to admit.

According to the 2015 United States Census, Americans aged 65 or older were 14.9 percent of the U.S. population or an estimated 47.8 million people. All of these people could be at risk if we are not careful, and it is not beyond reason to believe this virus will spread. Dr. Brian Monahan, the attending physician for the U.S. Congress, testified that anywhere between 70 to 150 of its members could become infected by the virus, as reported by Axios .

It is also worth noting that the confirmed cases that we are constantly hearing about are all based on the testing kits, which aren’t available to the vast majority of the population. The Associated Press reported on Mar. 12 that there are no federally confirmed numbers of how many people are being tested or its overall testing capacity, nor is there any guarantee that our current numbers are accurate. Independent researchers at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles announced an estimate two weeks ago that approximately 9,000 people could have been infected with the virus.

South Korea has been rather quick to handle the outbreak, testing an estimated 15,000 people per day. To compare, the U.S. has state and local testing rates of 100 per day. The simple and painful reality is that we are not responding fast enough, and we have very little reason to believe this won’t get worse before it gets better. Far be it from me to encourage a panic, but we as Americans must consider the severity of what we are about to face.

We must be vigilant and aware that although we may not be infected by this disease, there are a lot of people who are at risk and depend on us to be conscious of that reality. Yes, the administration has finally called this a national emergency, but until greater action is taken, we cannot disregard our own responsibilities individually and within our communities.

Sources:    -Census Numbers -Transmission information on COVID-19 -Testing System is failing -Flu is not as deadly as COVID-19 and we are not prepared for this. -Slow testing for COVID-19       COVID 19 stays in the air for three hours. -Michigan has 12 cases as of March 12th. – 700 vacancies in the CDC under Trump Partisanship –Coronavirus is a threat -Trump declares a national emergency. -The 1918 Flu is comparable in transmission to the Coronavirus. -Bipartisan work. Low on hospital beds

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Conor J. Kelly was the Opinion Editor for the Lorian and a prolific staff writer. He graduated from Loras College in April of 2021 and is now pursuing his master's in public administration at the University of Illinois, Springfield. His new work can be found on The Progressive American substack.

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