The Coronavirus: Facts and Fears
Whenever I tell anyone that my husband is Chinese and that we recently took a trip to visit my sick mother-in-law in China, I have to state the caveat that, no, she does not have the coronavirus and, no, we do not either.
We arrived back in the states about a week before the WHO reported the outbreak, and we were nowhere close to the epicenter of Wuhan. However, we have seen the paranoia surrounding the virus spread faster than the virus itself.
The Bible teaches over and over again the importance of peace over fear, and now seems like as good a time as ever to remind believers of the peace God gives us in the face of such fear–and to show how paranoia is affecting our Chinese brothers and sisters.
Much of the paranoia people have stems from the media. Paul says in Colossians 2:8 to let no one “take you captive … by empty deceit, according to human tradition.” It is human tradition for much of the media to be fueled by drama and exaggerate the facts to draw attention.
This not only spreads misinformation but also panic.
Before you take to heart something you read or hear regarding the coronavirus, double check it. Admittedly, in the sea of “fake news” and subsequent mania and mudslinging over it, finding reliable and trustworthy information is overwhelming. Let me quickly direct you to a few resources that might help:
- this guide from the library at Cornell University to critically evaluate fake news, propaganda, and misinformation
- this NPR article on how to self-check news sources
- this Crash Course playlist of educational videos about navigating digital information
When you strip away the drama, you get the facts of what the coronavirus actually is.
The novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is an upper respiratory virus that began from contact with an exotic animal at an open-air meat market in Wuhan, China.
Symptoms are similar to a cold or flu, with cough, congestion, and fever. The virus is highly contagious and airborne, with human-to-human transference confirmed shortly after the outbreak started. There is currently no cure, though research is being done to find one.
The virus has shown to be fatal, but most of the cases of people who have died from the virus already had compromised immune systems. You can watch a short and informative video describing this strain of the coronavirus on the WHO website.
So, yes, the coronavirus can be scary. However, if you put it into context of other upper respiratory viruses, it is not as scary.
For example, the Australian flu season in 2019 was a predictor that the flu in the US was going to be particularly severe. And indeed, the CDC estimates that somewhere between 12,000 and 30,000 people have died in the US because of flu-related complications since October 2019. Compare this to the 1370 global deaths so far from the coronavirus.
As mentioned, the symptoms of the coronavirus are very similar to the flu, as are the treatments and ways to prevent spreading it. When you look at it in this light, you can see that, for those of us in the US, the coronavirus is of little concern. Again, this website from the WHO is very helpful in explaining how to protect yourself from and prevent spreading the virus.
But for the fear Americans might feel about the coronavirus, the Chinese feel much more.
I’ve spoken to several friends–Chinese and ex-pat alike–who have been in China during this time so I can have a real idea of what is happening over there. The Chinese government has been working hard to contain the virus and to control its spread, which is a daunting task.
First of all, to say that China is huge is, of course, an understatement.
In the city of Wuhan alone, there are nearly twelve million people. To control an airborne virus among so many people across so much land requires intense measures, which can be frightening to some.
Second, this outbreak started just before the Spring Festival, which is the biggest holiday in China.
Much like Christmas or Thanksgiving here in the US, the main way to celebrate the Spring Festival is to return home to be with your family. Since many Chinese work in cities or provinces away from their hometowns, the weeks leading up to Spring Festival are always packed with travelers.
In particular, because Wuhan is such a big city, it draws many workers and students from other parts of China. So many people were traveling out of Wuhan to go home for the Spring Festival at the time of the outbreak. Stopping people from traveling out of Wuhan during this time is very difficult.
To minimize the spread of the virus, much of the public transportation in China has been shut down. Most businesses and schools are closed for about two weeks for the Spring Festival anyway, but many cities around the country have closed such institutions indefinitely. Travelers complete a health exam or have their temperatures checked before proceeding in or out of an area.
And finally, probably the factor about the coronavirus that has been the most scary to people is that the incubation for the virus can be up to fourteen days, meaning that one might be infected but not notice symptoms for up to two weeks.
On top of that, as mentioned, the symptoms are very much like a simple cold or the flu, so someone might feel fine or like their symptoms are not very strong and then not take as good care of their personal hygiene (hand washing, sneezing into an elbow, etc.), spreading the infection without realizing it. This also makes it difficult to track or contain the virus, and it’s one of the reasons why government officials are cracking down so seriously. Suspected cases are quarantined and treated until the incubation period has passed.
The next article will explore practical ways we as Christians can help.