COVID-19: It’s not always about you

I can’t count the number of times I’ve read a post like this over the past two weeks: “The Swine Flu infected 60 million people and killed 12,000, and no one panicked like this. What’s the big deal with COVID-19?”

  • Yes, some people are freaking out. No, that’s not the right thing to do.

  • Yes, some people are hoarding toilet paper but failing to buy food. Yes, that’s stupid.

  • Yes, according to the news the world is ending as you read this. No, it’s not.

But before you post another comment or question criticizing the world’s “overreaction” to this pandemic, stop for a minute and think about the people in your life who are actually at risk of dying from this virus. I’ll tell you who I think about. I think about everyone I know who is battling Cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Diabetes, COPD, or any immune-compromising illnesses. I think about everyone over the age of 65 with pre-existing health issues. Know anyone like that? I also think of my Great-grandfather, Dr. Mario Mollari, who spent his life traveling to remote corners of the globe, hunting for tropical diseases. I think of my Grandfather, Dr. P.J. Pesare, who dedicated a large portion of his life to treating those with infections diseases. If they were around today, how would they be affected?


So with that, here’s the answer to answer your “question.” “The Swine Flu infected 60 million people and killed 12,000, and no one panicked like this. What’s the big deal with COVID-19?” Well, I’m not a doctor, but I do know that comparing mortality rates between historical pandemics like the Swine Flu and COVID-19 is illogical. Those pandemics have run their courses (though several continue to circulate); this one is just getting started. So, while it’s true that the 2009 Swine Flu pandemic resulted in approximately 60.8 million cases; 274,304 hospitalizations and 12,469 deaths; those numbers were measured over the course of a year (April 2009-April 2010)[1]. Therefore, accurate comparison between the Swine Flu and COVID-19 outcomes shouldn’t be made for at least another 9 months. Also, there are substantial differences between the two viruses. Here are two big ones: #1: Incubation Period: The average incubation time (the period between being exposed to the virus and exhibiting symptoms) for H1N1 Swine Flu is 2 days, with some patients not exhibiting symptoms for up to 7 days.[2] The average incubation time for COVID-19 is 5.5 days, with some patients not exhibiting symptoms for up to 14 days. Most patients who become symptomatic do so within 11 or 12 days.[3] Significance: You could be contagious with COVID-19 for up to 2 weeks before you even realize you are sick. Many will have mild or no symptoms at all during their infection but are still contagious. #2 Half-Life: The Swine Flu can remain active on surfaces like doorknobs, handles, keyboards, tables and chairs for 2-8 hours.[4] COVID-19 can remain active on similar surfaces much longer. It can remain active on copper for up to 4 hours, cardboard for up to 24 hours, and plastic and stainless steel for up to 2 to 3 days.[5] Significance: You could contract COVID-19 by touching a contaminated surface up to 3 days after an infected person contaminates it. This means the COVID-19 virus can be spread much more easily than the Swine Flu. In addition, there’s the problem of ventilators… COVID-19 kills most people due to complications including Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). ARDS is not treatable per se, but when your lungs fill with fluid, being placed on a mechanical ventilator can help. The problem? If the disease spreads significantly, we will run out of ventilators. According to a 2010 study, there are approximately 62,188 full-feature mechanical ventilators owned by U.S. acute care hospitals.[6] While there may certainly be more than 62,188 ventilators in the U.S. today, even if only 10% of the U.S. population contracts COVID-19 (approx. 3.3 million) and only 10% of those require hospitalization (approx.. 330,000 people)… 62,188 minus 330,000 equals… Well, you get the idea. I’m all for humor in times like these. Hell, I’m for humor at all times, but given the potential of this virus to kill millions of people, please try to remember that it’s not always about you. If you are relatively healthy, you probably have nothing to worry about personally, but you can still very easily spread this virus to someone or something that someone comes into contact with. So, the next time you find yourself about to say something about everyone overreacting, think of your grandparents, parents, and anyone else you care about who has pre-existing health conditions. They are, after all, at real risk.


[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]

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