I am not sure what is going to take me out first — A. the COVID-19 virus (also known as the coronavirus); or B. an overdose of media coverage of the COVID-19 virus.
I don’t mean to sound flippant about the COVID-19 virus. As one of those in the high-risk category (a senior citizen) it may very well be my demise, but I have to think that there are probably at least a dozen other health risks with greater potential to take me out long before COVID-19.
And I know the media (I am part of that great institution) is just doing its job, but in 2020 the competition to provide the most complete, comprehensive, timely and truthful coverage is so intense that my saturation limit was reached a long time ago.
I’m not sure what I would do differently if it was up to me, but the COVID-19 coverage always appears so dramatic. We see pictures of empty streets of once-bustling cities, and if there is a crowd of people they are all wearing face masks (which the experts have said about 100 times don’t do any good anyway). Where we see patients in hospital there are rows of beds and doctors and nurses in hazmat suits tending to the sick. OMG, that looks serious. It reminds me a bit of that video footage of a staggering, old dairy cow that got played over and over again on virtually every TV news broadcast in the weeks following the mad cow disease crisis in 2003.
As I write this column in early March, the headlines are about Alberta now having its first confirmed case of COVID-19… that news report seems to be followed by a silent pause, like we’re supposed to fill in the blank — you know what this means? Is this the beginning of the end? Is it just a matter of days before I wake up early in the morning to see peasants hired by Alberta Health Services out on the street with an ox-cart collecting the corpses of those who died the night before from COVID-19? Is that what is next? Maybe my imagination is slightly overactive.
The media coverage seems to create this cloud of impending doom. As of early March, more than 100,000 people globally had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and about 3,500 had died. And of course the stock market — that to me is one of the most panic-stricken institutions ever created and lives in constant fear that the sky is falling — is running in circles, and that potentially could affect the world economy. All these numbers and behaviours are serious stuff. I am sure the disease numbers and perhaps the panic will climb significantly, but I really think it needs to be kept in perspective.
COVID-19 can be a serious virus, but by all accounts, it appears most people survive it, and many with very mild symptoms.
If you look at statistics for other diseases the numbers are pretty powerful too. According to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, the seasonal flu kills somewhere between 300,000 and 650,000 people in the world annually. For years in many parts of the world there has been a vaccination, which I always get, against seasonal flu. But, at the same time, I also know a lot of people who don’t believe in the flu shot. The seasonal flu doesn’t get a lot of attention in the media today, even though if you go back in history a short 100 years, the 1918 influenza pandemic infected one-third of the world population and killed as many as 50 million people.
And figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) report the No. 1 combination of killer diseases across the world is still heart and stroke disease with about 15 million deaths in 2016. The combination has been the No. 1 killer globally for the past 15 years. I don’t see that making the nightly news.
And the WHO reports that even car crashes claim the lives of about 1.5 million people globally each year. I don’t see the stock market tumbling even with apparently a constant number of poor drivers on the road.
So, I guess the bottom line on all this is, I expect the COVID-19 virus will keep spreading. I’m hoping no one I know will be seriously affected by it, or the flu, or a car crash or any other misfortune. In the meantime, I don’t plan any trips to China, South Korea or Iran. Yes, washing my hands is always a good idea. And probably passing up a cheeseburger and fries for lunch and going for a good walk instead will contribute more to my life expectancy than anything else.