Painful Truth: Too easy to fall into paranoia about virus

Our columnist can feel the creeping coronavirus panic

I’m trying to get over my innate tendency to read absolutely everything I can find about the novel coronavirus, now renamed COVID-19.

It’s possible to spend hours reading updates, world news, blogs (yes, there are still blogs, and yes, some of them are dedicated entirely to emerging new viruses) and tweets about the virus, which is thought to have emerged in the city of Wuhan, China, late last fall.

The grim daily death and infection updates delivered by the government of China and various health agencies are the most alarming, of course.

I’ve had to take refuge in math, which is helpful. Wuhan has a population of more than 11 million people – a city bigger than New York yet few of us could find it on an unlabeled map. The approximately 1,100 people who have died of the virus represent about 0.01 per cent of the city’s total population.

That means that in real terms, we’re likely to be okay. The virus may be new and scary, but the numbers of people actually infected are still quite small on a planet of more than 7.5 billion.

That said, there are always ways to scare yourself, if you really want to be scared.

For example, an article quoting an expert on epidemics (I said I’m trying not to read too much about the virus, not that I’m succeeding) laid out the absolute worse-case scenario – the virus gets out of the extreme quarantine measures imposed by China and spreads worldwide. It would ultimately infect about 60 per cent of the total population.

Fortunately, the fatality rate is thought to be relatively low. It might be below one per cent.

Then math, my friend, turns around and bites me, letting me know that one per cent of 60 per cent of the population of earth is around 4,500,000 people.

That’s a lot of bereaved relatives and friends.

To put it into more concrete terms – what would the worse-case scenario look like for Langley?

With a combined population of more than 158,000 people in City and Township, the expected deaths could be as high as 950 local residents.

That seems terrifying, but it almost pales in comparison to the idea that we could have 95,000 illnesses. Or, that we might have to self-quarantine, shutting down schools and businesses for weeks, to avoid that level of spread of the virus.

It’s extremely unlikely that the worst-case scenario will come into play, but it is likely that people, like myself, could go overboard and panic if the virus does begin to spread more widely.

Ultimately, I have to do the difficult thing. I have to trust that the authorities are planning at least reasonably well, that the systems we have in place are sturdy, and that catastrophe is not always imminent.

I also have to admit to myself that bad information, like conspiracy theories, are not the only way you can panic about something. Too much good information can drive you into just as much of a panic as bad info.

ColumnColumnistCoronavirusOpinion

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

LETTER: More pedestrians out, so please drive safely

Pleading with motorists to slow down and to ensure everyone makes it through this challenging time

Televangelist with office in Langley claims to ‘heal’ viewers of COVID-19 through their TV screens

On the contrary, Langley churches offer free resources and goers self-isolate to ‘flatten the curve’

Township firefighters donate blood and deliver meals during COVID-19 crisis

Safe to donate blood during pandemic, says Canadian Blood Services

Langley community gardens reopen

They were closed due to virus concerns, but they have been declared an essential service

‘An extra $220 every 90 days’: B.C. patients pay more dispensing fees due to prescription limits

Kelowna woman says it’s outrageous to charge for refills every 30 days

‘Hold our line’: 29 new cases of COVID-19 announced in B.C.

Saturday’s number of new cases marks the lowest in weeks.

Exercises move online with YMCA’s new nationwide virtual workout program

YThrive Home offers dozens of free workout videos for people during COVID-19 self-isolation period

Two inmates found positive for COVID-19 at Mission Institution; two other tests pending

15 staff self-isolating waiting results, says correctional officer

B.C. community service provider hosts friendly art competition for youth

Theme for Pacific Community Resources contest is ‘finding the silver lining in difficult times’

Critic, workers’ group ‘disappointed’ Trudeau chose Amazon to distribute PPE

Amazon Canada said in an email to The Canadian Press that it is working with Canada Post, Purolator

Full World COVID-19 update: National Guard collect ventilators in New York; Spain, Italy improve

Comprehensive coronavirus update with news from around the world.

TransLink to reduce service on some bus routes, SeaBus, West Coast Express

Changes start April 6 ‘due to low ridership and financial pressures’ amid COVID-19

Two people fined after B.C. police spot online ads re-selling 5,000 surgical, N95 masks

Police confiscated the masks, being sold at inflated prices, and now working with Fraser Health

Most Read