Against the panic (or not)

The coronavirus panic continues and deepens. It’s hard to see the story straight through the panic. It appears that things will get worse before they get better. We don’t know how much worse before the turn occurs. A wise man once observed it’s always darkest just before it’s entirely black.

It’s been a long time since we heard from science writer Michael Fumento. Fumento’s journalism on the AIDS hysteria culminated in The Myth of Heterosexual Aids (1990). Against the tenor of the then reigning misinformation and hysteria, Fumento, I believe, had it right.

Fumento’s 1997 book on diet, The Fat of the Land, runs counter to the work of Gary Taubes; I have been helped by Taubes’s books. Fumento had obviously benefited from following his own advice. Based on my own experience, I prefer Taubes.

In 2012, Fumento renounced the right. I had no idea of his politics then or now. I found him a thoughtful guide to the subjects he addressed.

Since his work on AIDS and diet, Fumento appears to have gone to law school and moved from the United States, first to Latin America and now the Philippines. Today he reappears in the New York Post with observations that tend to belie the panic:

China is the origin of the virus and still accounts for over 80 percent of cases and deaths. But its cases peaked and began ­declining more than a month ago, according to data presented by the Canadian epidemiologist who spearheaded the World Health Organization’s coronavirus mission to China. Fewer than 200 new cases are reported daily, down from a peak of 4,000.

Subsequent countries will follow this same pattern, in what’s called Farr’s Law. First formulated in 1840 and ignored in ­every epidemic hysteria since, the law states that epidemics tend to rise and fall in a roughly symmetrical pattern or bell-shaped curve. AIDS, SARS, Ebola — they all followed that pattern. So does seasonal flu each year.

Clearly, flu is vastly more contagious than the new coronavirus, as the WHO has noted. Consider that the first known coronavirus cases date back to early December, and since then, the virus has ­afflicted fewer people in total than flu does in a few days. Oh, and why are there no flu quarantines? Because it’s so contagious, it would be impossible.

As for death rates, as I first noted in these pages on Jan. 24, you can’t employ simple math — as everyone is doing — and look at deaths versus cases because those are ­reported cases. With both flu and assuredly with coronavirus, the great majority of those infected have symptoms so mild — if any — that they don’t seek medical attention and don’t get counted in the caseload.

Furthermore, those calculating rates ­ignore the importance of good health care. Given that the vast majority of cases have occurred in a country with poor health care, that’s going to dramatically exaggerate the death rate.

The rate also varies tremendously according to age, with a Chinese government analysis showing 0.2 percent deaths below age 40 but 14.8 percent above 80. A study published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association found zero deaths worldwide among children 9 and under. Zero.

Like the flu, the coronavirus is afflicting high-risk groups: the elderly, those with ­underlying health conditions like diabetes or heart disease and those with compromised immune systems. Are there exceptions? Sure. But that’s the case with almost every complex biological phenomenon of the kind.

More good news. This month, the Northern Hemisphere, which includes the countries with the most cases, starts heating up. Almost all respiratory viruses hate warm and moist weather. That’s why flu dies out in America every year by May at the latest and probably why Latin America has reported only 25 coronavirus cases. The Philippines, where I live, has about a third of the US population, but it’s so damned hot and humid here, so far we have had no confirmed cases of internal transmission.

The only questions are what the impact will be in the Southern Hemisphere, where far fewer people live, and whether it will ­return to the north in the fall.

Still, if you want to try to reduce your ­low risk even further, then use what works against flu and colds. Both the surgeon general and head of the CDC have advised we nix the masks; they don’t work. Instead, wash your hands with hot water and soap or an alcohol solution for at least 10 to 20 seconds. That way you won’t spread any germs when you use the TV remote to flip off the latest hysterical news report.

Whole thing here.

Theodore Dalrymple (the psychiatrist Anthony Daniels) has more in the Law & Liberty column “Between complacency and panic.” We shall see soon enough, but it may be help stem the panic by taking the measure of Fumento’s observations against the progress of the coronavirus epidemic.