I tend to stay away from medical topics other than those I have direct experience with because I’m not in the medical field and I don’t want to spread misinformation, which is why I haven’t really written about the coronavirus pandemic.
I tried to avoid it as long as I could, but the word nerd inside me has the last … um … word. She’s been getting really cranky, and I find it’s best to let her have her say before the smacking begins, especially since I’m the only one here as I write this.
She hits hard. (And please don’t make the mistake one writer did in referring to the “new novel coronavirus” unless you want her to smack you for the redundancy of using “new” and “novel.”)
Some might fault me for using the word “pandemic” in that first paragraph, but it is correct not only because the World Health Organization declared it to be so (the first one caused by a coronavirus), but also in terms of the dictionary definition of pandemic.
Merriam-Webster tackled pandemic versus epidemic last week (and washed thoroughly before and after) on its Words At Play blog: “An epidemic is defined as ‘an outbreak of disease that spreads quickly and affects many individuals at the same time.’ A pandemic is a type of epidemic (one with greater range and coverage), an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population.”
Epidemic can be traced to the Greek epidemios, which means, according to the dictionary, “within the country, among the people, prevalent (of a disease).” Pandemic, it writes, “comes from the Greek pandemos (‘of all the people’), which itself is from pan- (‘all, every’) and demos (‘people’).” That pan- is what makes the difference, as it implies that something affects or has the potential to affect a majority of people (not that people who wouldn’t know this would read this blog, but a majority is more than 30 percent). If you look at the CDC’s map of affected countries, you’ll quickly realize it would take less time to recite the names of the unaffected countries than to rattle off those with confirmed cases.
Because of the exponential worldwide spread of covid-19, it was just a matter of time before it was declared a pandemic. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a briefing in Geneva last Wednesday:
“In the past two weeks, the number of cases of covid-19 outside China has increased 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has tripled. There are now more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and 4,291 people have lost their lives. Thousands more are fighting for their lives in hospitals.
“In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths and the number of affected countries climb even higher. … WHO has been in full response mode since we were notified of the first cases. And we have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action. We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.”
The last time a pandemic was declared was in 2009 with the H1N1 swine flu, which killed more than 18,000 in more than 214 countries and territories. For perspective, that death toll was over the course of a year. As of Tuesday, the global death toll for covid-19 is over 7,500, including at least 100 in the U.S., in the space of three months.
(The recent Ebola and Zika outbreaks, which were less widespread, were classified as international emergencies, not pandemics.)
Tedros was careful to make clear that “pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.”
Merriam-Webster noted that while there is some overlap in the definitions of pandemic and epidemic, “The coronavirus has, unfortunately, spread now to such a global extent, and with such severity, that we appear to have moved past the point of semantic ambiguity; the disease has taken on pandemic proportions.”
Unfortunately, it appears covid-19 panic has reached, at least, epidemic proportions. When I went to the store Sunday for my weekly grocery trip, whole sections of aisles were empty because apparently the end is nigh and toilet paper is our new currency.
Take a moment, calm down, and recognize that your panic hurts other people, such as those on a limited budget who can’t afford to buy 24 packages of Charmin, and really won’t be able to pay those who bought up stores’ stocks just so they can price-gouge their neighbors in need. Though some of those jerks will get their comeuppance, like the Tennessee man who with his brother bought up 18,000 bottles of hand sanitizer to sell them at marked-up prices who is now under investigation for price-gouging, was kicked out of his storage unit, and was suspended as a seller on Amazon and eBay (he did end up, after much scorn heaped upon him, donating the sanitizer).
There’s a middle ground between panic and ignoring reality, which is where we should try to reside. Common sense and courtesy are needed more than ever.
Buy what you need, but remember that you’re not the only person in existence and leave some for others. If your company will allow you to work from home, do it (that’s what I and many co-workers are doing; I wish more people could, but a lot of jobs can’t be done remotely). If you’re sick, stay home except to get medical care. Wash your hands and disinfect surfaces, and don’t touch your face unless you’ve just washed those nasty hands. Cough or sneeze into your elbow or into a tissue you throw away immediately. Keep your distance from other people.
That last one will be really easy for me as an introvert. I’ve been training my whole life for this. Self-isolation is my everyday existence; heck, when I had a video meeting earlier, I turned off my camera. People? Spare me!
Stay safe and calm out there!