Letter: I was wrong about the coronavirus

Don’t panic but take proper precautions

Alex Aritan/Daily Collegian

Alex Aritan/Daily Collegian

On February 3, I wrote an article for the Daily Collegian titled “Don’t believe the media panic about the coronavirus,” with the subtitle “It’s less dangerous than you think.” In the article, I said that “so far, the reality of the coronavirus is actually less serious than media reports would suggest.” The reason for this was that the median age of coronavirus victims at that point was 75 and those who died from the virus had an underlying health issue. I closed the article with a paragraph that began, “the coronavirus panic seems, to me, to be an overblown media spectacle, repeated every few years with new symptoms and a different origin country.” I now recognize that I was overly optimistic in my analysis of a disease that turned out to be much worse than I initially thought.

As I write this article, the number of cases worldwide topped 200,000. There are now 7,387 cases in the United States, along with 116 deaths. Of course, this number will only continue to rise with new testing: there are undoubtedly scores of people who show few or no symptoms but have the virus anyway.

As a result of the influx in cases, state and local governments have shuttered restaurants and bars, discouraged nonessential travel and even put in place curfews in certain highly affected areas. The University of Massachusetts, along with many other colleges across the country, has closed campuses and transitioned to online instruction.

Seniors understandably lament this decision. For them, this was supposed to be their last semester on campus, a time for mirth and relative relaxation before entering the real world. Instead, they have been unceremoniously removed from campus and forced to take classes online – in other words, they have the worst of both worlds.

As much as my heart goes out to the seniors, I believe the UMass system made the right call in closing schools. According to one Atlantic writer, “so far only one measure has been effective against the coronavirus: extreme social distancing.” Moreover, he says, “anyone in a position of power or authority, instead of downplaying the dangers of the coronavirus, should ask people to stay away from public places, cancel big gatherings, and restrict most forms of nonessential travel.” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recognizes that many Americans will view such measures as draconian, but insists they are necessary: he thinks that “we should really be overly aggressive and get criticized for overreacting” to the coronavirus.

Unfortunately, many young people aren’t taking this advice seriously. Last weekend in Washington D.C., for instance, images abounded of St. Patrick’s Day revelers standing in long lines to access packed bars utterly devoid of social distancing measures. If you are young and believe you can just roam the empty streets because you aren’t in the group most likely to die from coronavirus, you are acting selfishly and irresponsibly – not to mention immorally. Yes, you are less likely to die from COIVD-19 than elderly people, but this doesn’t mean you can’t carry the disease to those most vulnerable populations. Before you decide to live your life as you normally would without taking social distancing calls seriously, consider your grandparents, parents and any old people you care about. By staying at home, these are the people you are protecting. As fellow Collegian writer Emma Garber has said, “now is not the time to pretend we are invincible. We cannot say ‘YOLO’ and act as if nothing is wrong. Furthermore, we cannot act as if our actions do not have consequences.”

It’s okay to admit you were wrong. I was wrong about the potential of the coronavirus. COVID-19 is a big deal. People should take proper precautions now to avoid catastrophic damage later. However, this doesn’t mean we should panic. Don’t rush out to stock up unnecessarily on toilet paper; this will only induce more shortages. Don’t overstock items at the grocery store; believe it or not, they will be restocked. Don’t be like the Amazon seller who bought 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer from local stores to sell them online at a massive markup, only to learn that Amazon wouldn’t allow him to do it. The man who did this has since repented and donated most of his purchase.

Most of all, learn to admit you were wrong. Many people I know have done so since COVID-19 spread quickly around the world. Once we do this, we can accurately assess the problem and determine what we need to do about it.

Conservative commentator Matt Walsh tweeted something that we should all think about right now: “I was very skeptical of the coronavirus at first. I’ve seen the media hype up many supposed pandemics and disasters that fizzled out. Thought this was another one. But the point of the Boy Who Cried Wolf story is that the wolf really shows up one day. I think the wolf is here.” Let this be a lesson to all of us.

Greg Fournier
Collegian Columnist

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