Tyrrell: The real danger of coronavirus


Columnist Eileen Tyrrell believes that the real danger of the coronavirus is the hysteria that comes with it. She urges people not to panic but to take measures to protect themselves.

Eileen Tyrrell

It seems like every few years a new mysteriously frightening outbreak threatens the world: the swine flu, ebola and now coronavirus, more formally known as COVID-19. Initial reports of the virus have the world in a panic — How many people will be dying? Who will be next? But the truth is that COVID-19 has a mortality rate of just 1.4 percent. The real dangers of the virus are a little more insidious. 

The problem is that coronavirus is aggressively contagious and therefore aggressively disruptive. It might have a similar mortality rate to the seasonal flu, but if it can spread faster and quicker than what we’re used to, a lot more people will end up sick or dead — in other words, that 1.4 percent mortality rate will be distributed to a much larger group of people. As with any flu, the small percent of fatalities is comprised of people with previously compromised immune systems: the elderly, the very young and the chronically ill. It is important that those of us with robust immune systems take full precautions to stay healthy and reduce the chances of passing on the virus to someone more at risk.  

Such precautions include avoiding those who are sick and avoiding others if you are sick, wiping down commonly touched surfaces, such as your phone screen, laptop keyboard, and doorknobs, and most important of all, washing your hands thoroughly and frequently. Face masks are not advised unless you are already sick, according to the CDC. 

And not advised by the CDC, although just as important: Let’s avoid hysteria. There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Iowa yet, and most of us — young adults, healthy enough to attend college — would emerge unscathed even if we did contract the virus. Hysteria is what will cause real disruption across the board; think school cancellations, people being unable to work, panic, economic crisis. Hysteria allows fear and chaos to breed with the virus, rather than information and practical measures. 

It is incredibly important that all of us take measures to prevent the spread of the virus, for the sake of those at increased risk. But for most of us, the real danger of coronavirus is the disruption it will cause our lives if it continues to worsen. Some Iowa State students have already been impacted in a devastating way: All students who were supposed to spend this semester studying abroad in Italy have been required to come home, and students studying in other countries may be next. 

Carissa Ver Steeg and Christina Badalucco are among those being made to return home early from their semesters in Florence, Italy. 

“I feel like this is the type of stuff to only happen in movies and I never thought it would actually happen to me,” Ver Steeg said via email. “Not only was my experience cut short, but I’m losing money because of it and won’t get the in-classroom learning experience I expected.” 

Compounding the distress of being sent home early is the fact that it happened so suddenly. 

“Iowa State sent us two emails, one that was very vague saying not to worry — then two days later they sent us an email saying nothing other than we need to leave by the sixth and they will reimburse our flights and [we will] continue courses online,” Badalucco said. “It breaks my heart that something I’ve been waiting and planning for since freshman year is ripped right out from under us… I just hope everyone abroad makes it home safe to their family.”  

With entire cities in Italy now being quarantined, Iowa State is clearly taking necessary precautions to protect students and get them home safely. But the devastation and loss of having to return home early from a semester abroad can’t be minimized, and we should all do our best to prevent the spread of the virus and the spread of misinformation and hysteria in order to reduce future disruptions COVID-19 may cause. 

So, people: Coronavirus is here. Don’t panic, but stay calm and take practical measures to protect yourself. The mortality rate of the virus is similar to the seasonal flu; its real danger lies in how fast it can spread and how disruptive it will be to our lives. 

And please, for the love of god, wash your hands.