You can’t read the news without bumping into Covid-19 and the hysteria generating headlines. I have been shocked at the level of fear that is developing around this. At the office two folks decided to work from home because they’re afraid. The rest of the staff is waiting for management to send us home for two weeks.
I should mention that I work for a high tech company and my team is all software engineers. It’s a bunch of really smart people. There’s one math PHD and lots of Master degrees walking around the lunch room.
Normally the banter around the virtual water cooler (in our case the company IM channel know as “random”) is about the company stock price and who is the latest person to buy a Tesla. This last week the random talk has been mostly about the virus.
I did try to get them to talk about why the stock price was down, but was told, “virus fears” with no further conversation. Strangely, they also started this weird, “where to buy toilet paper” thread – including pictures of empty Costco shelves. I get that people feel the need to stock up on supplies in case we get quarantined, but exactly how much TP do you need to have on hand for two to three weeks? Perhaps they’re confusing this with the zombie apocalypse.
The speculation on how much TP was needed and when it might be needed somehow turned our software engineers and mathematicians into epidemiological experts. There were discussions of the relevant equations, virus vectors, prevention methods, and lots of complex equations soon found their way to various IM channels.
One person went as far as calling (actual phone call) Costco to get numbers on TP sales. Sadly, all they got was, “We sold out in 30 minutes after opening and expect more tomorrow.”
The studies by our team of “experts” suggests that my county will have 200 confirmed cases by tomorrow morning and as many as 4 people dead. People are losing their minds over these numbers. I don’t want to minimize impact of the virus, but dial it back folks and wash your hands. There’s a difference between real risk, fear, and outright panic.
Personally I blame the fear on two factors and both are writers. I’m a writer so you get to blame me.
One source of cultural fear of a viral pandemic comes from post-apocalyptic fiction. Books like, Earth Abides, The City Not Long After, Maze Runner, and movies like Outbreak and 12 Monkeys. And, well, every zombie movie and TV show ever made. All of these show the horrible after effects of a viral pandemic.
The other source is our news media. Driven by profit, news outlets like Fox, CNN, The New York Times and so many others have the need to get eyes on their websites, buy their papers and generally consume their content.
The headline, “Covid-19 is a New Virus, Wash Your Hands” gets you two readers, while the headline, “We’re all Going to Die a Horrible Death” gets enough eyes on the website so the editors can buy a new yacht.
Two points – never believe media hype. And post-apocalyptic fiction is, well, fiction. Viruses don’t behave like that and so far I’ve not heard of a single Covid zombie reported. Well, maybe I’m not reading the right websites.
Still it is scary. It’s possible that a lot of people will get sick, many will be inconvenienced, and yes some will die. It’s the risk we take walking around the planet. Over time viruses tend to mutate to less aggressive forms. Remember you’re basic biology, a virus needs living cells to reproduce. A virus that kills its host is an unsuccessful virus. It will take time, but a vaccine will be available.
If we take reasonable precautions (go wash your hands), and only buy the TP we need for a month, 99.9% of us will be here next year to complain about the collapse of our stock portfolios and what the heck to do with all that TP.