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Coronavirus crisis: Are we sinking or staying afloat?

Off the Record

When RMS Titanic struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage in 1912, the “unsinkable” ship sank in 2 hours and 40 minutes. During that short period, many passengers wondered whether it was safer to stay on board or go out in the lifeboats.

From the frenzied developments of the coronavirus pandemic, one could easily imagine we’ve hit a berg and are sinking fast. Is it better to stay at home or still go out?

Much is closed or restricted. Whole countries are on lockdown. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders actually held a primary debate without a live audience, although that could have happened even without the virus.

Politicians are trying to outdo each other with rescue plans. Sanders would call out the National Guard. Biden would mobilize the whole Army. The current federal relief gives most Americans $1,200, plus hundreds of billions to businesses. More is on the way.

Although vastly increasing the government’s intervention into private life and business is a capitalist’s nightmare, it sounds like a Democratic socialist’s dream. President Trump got effusive praise from, of all people, Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, a staunch Sanders supporter, who was thrilled with the president’s “incredible” bailout response.

Leaders hope vast outlays of cash will check a recession, and that the global shutdown will check the virus so that the medical profession can catch up. Some experts claim the coronavirus is deadlier than the flu and spreads faster. Time is needed to develop a vaccine.

The flu itself causes “about three to five million cases of severe illness and about 290,000 to 650,000 deaths” every year. The 1918–1919 influenza pandemic killed “an estimated 2.5% to 5% of the world’s population. As many as 25 million may have been killed in the first 25 weeks.”

Yet most people recover completely from both the flu and the coronavirus. The Associated Press reports that “for most people, COVID-19 causes only mild or moderate symptoms.” The World Health Organization says recovery usually takes from two to six weeks.

Like the flu, the coronavirus takes its largest toll from the aged and those with prior conditions. South Korea “reported an overall coronavirus death rate of 0.77% out of 7,755 cases,” which rose to 7.2% for people over 80. When Italy surpassed China’s deaths, 87% were people over 70. Most of Connecticut’s fatalities were in their 80s or 90s.

Democrats, as expected, are using the “Trump Pandemic” to thrash the president and push their political and social agenda. Like the Obama administration after the 2008 financial meltdown, they don’t want to let a good crisis go to waste.

The press is also taking advantage. Trump’s actions are critiqued as quickly as they’re made, almost always negatively. Even when the president was found to be virus free, The New York Times headline thundered, “Trump Is Tested for Coronavirus, and Experts Ask: What Took So Long?”

The Times suggested the president “does not fully understand the risks the country faces.” Had a President Hillary Clinton taken the same time to get tested, the paper very likely would have fawned over her steely calm in the face of panic.

Sanders, ever the alarmist, warns that the American death toll could exceed our World War II dead (over 400,000). Bernie is often off his rocker, but it is conceivable that the coronavirus could cause death statistics like war and influenza.

So why have we never shut down everything to check the annual half million flu deaths? One reason, perhaps, is that flu fatalities are expected every year and aren’t treated as hourly doomsday bulletins.

When California Governor Gavin Newsome ordered all 40 million state residents to stay home, only 19 Californians had died from the coronavirus at that point. Newsome warned, however, that without such measures, over one million Californians could die.

One fault with death rates was made clear by a Business Insider report on Germany’s remarkably low rate of 0.74%. It said, “Scientists agree that a large number -— probably a big majority — of all coronavirus cases never make it into the official figures because they are not severe enough for hospital treatment. The more widely a country tests, the more of these milder cases it will find,” and the lower a country’s actual death rate will be.

It remains to be seen whether broad shutdown actions will slow the virus sufficiently or will have to be extended. Or would individual quarantines and targeted protections have sufficed and perhaps lessened a global recession?

Some practices such as stockpiling food certainly don’t help. The shelves in many American stores already look like those in third-world socialist countries. The difference is that our stores can quickly replenish. The socialist ones can’t.

Sorry, Bernie.


Mark Godburn is a bookseller in Norfolk and the author of “Nineteenth-Century Dust-Jackets” (2016).


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