Commentary: CoVid-19: Fear vs Reality


By Tia Will

In 2014 – 2016 there was an outbreak of Ebola in Africa. It was devastating due to the local conditions on the ground. By 3/16, the WHO had documented a total of 14,124 cases, including 3,955 deaths, in Sierra Leone alone. In the United States, there were a total of 11 cases reported, 4 in individuals believed to have acquired the virus in the US, the others repatriated for care. I wrote about it at the time and a lively discussion ensued.

Although there were not any cases of Ebola reported in California, and there were only 2 deaths from Ebola in those who had acquired it outside the US, there was a great outcry for the government to “do something”. For comparison, during the 2015-2016 reporting period, the CDC registered 85 pediatric deaths due to the flu. Adult deaths are not reportable but one can reasonably assume there were more than the number of pediatric deaths and yet there was no comparable public outcry.

Worse than no public demand for enhanced flu surveillance and corresponding public health response was the call for more resources to fight Ebola. Here in the Sacramento area including Yolo County, this was the cost. At Kaiser alone, where I was employed at the time, each department and/or facility had to designate both an adult and a pediatric “czar” to be trained in screening, testing and monitoring of suspected Ebola carriers. This included the designation of special screening rooms, complete personal protection gear for every entry into the designated area, and designation of surrogates to track patients & contacts and relay results. These were resources diverted from the usual winter care of primary care patients in a late, & fortunately moderate flu season. I do not know how many lives may have been lost, or how much money was spent on a nonexistent emergency in the US, but I believe those numbers to be more than zero. Far, far more in the case of
dollars spent.

Now, 5 years later, we are facing another global epidemic (25 countries have reported confirmed cases). CoVid-19 first reported in early January in a Wuhan, a single city in an inland province of China has affected approximately 15,000 people in Hubei province, including 1,700 health care workers, and approximately 1,400 deaths all but a handful in Hubei, the source of origin. We have as of 2/14, a reported total of 15 cases in the US. We are also in the US in a serious flu season. So what is our actual risk ? The answer is “we don’t know”. But we do know some tendencies in risk assessment that can lead to serious errors in judgment.

From information provided with regard to Yolo County from the County Health Council yesterday:

-There are zero cases of Corona virus confirmed in Yolo County

-There are currently eight known cases of CoVid-19 in California and 15 total in the US

However, as we did in the case of Ebola, Yolo County is investing a vast amount of time and energy, not in the flu which has already been the cause of 2 deaths in the county, but in identifying, testing and tracking those who have displayed symptoms of CoVid-19 and their contacts. I am not expert in allocation of resources. I have no idea at this time whether this is an appropriate allocation or not. However, having spent a large part of my career considering preventive health measures, I would recommend the following:

  • Do pay attention to symptoms, especially fever, cough & difficulty breathing.
  • Do stay home if you are feeling ill
  • Call your physicians line for advice. Do not present to the office with these symptoms without calling first as there may be special protocols in place.
  • Do not get your news about CoVid-19 from social media.
  • Do not get your medical advice from online purveyors of “cures”.
  • Do not get health tips from social media
  • Do not hoard masks which are badly needed by health care personnel.


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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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3 thoughts on “Commentary: CoVid-19: Fear vs Reality”

  1. John Hobbs

    Thanks Tia. Ignorance and fear are deadly than most viral outbreaks. Airlines are terrible about allowing sick people, especially kids to infect the rest of the passengers. Employers are also remiss when they urge employees to come to work with the flu. In my union shop civil service job I can’t count how many times a boss threatened me with discipline up to termination for using my sick leave for the flu. BTW last week at an imaging lab in Roseville, the staff gave masks to everyone in the waiting room. Maybe they knew something we didn’t or maybe they were erring on the side of caution.

    1. Tia Will


      Thanks for sharing your experience. In flu season, I see it as an entirely reasonable option to provide masks for waiting patients. It is also a good idea to have hand disinfectant available for people to use as they enter and exit, since many infectious agents are passed from the rapid transition from person to person via door knobs and hand, rests before the organism has died.


    2. Bill Marshall

      Yes, the “panic”/social media ‘epidemic’ is huge… in Davis, seeing Asian UCD students wearing masks…

      No deaths in the US… miniscule diagnoses… this is not ‘the Spanish Flu’ which actually had a higher death toll than all combat deaths in WWI… which was considered to be the ‘war to end all wars’ (yeah, right)… same time frame…

      Have an in-law who e-mailed an urgent warning to wear masks… not realizing that masks that prevent inhalation of wood chips/dust, pollens, are not particularly effective as to viruses… they can protect against aerosols.  Still…

      Tia pretty much has this nailed… as did FDR when he quipped, “We have nothing to fear, except fear itself…”

      The hand-washing/”purell” thing is simple, easy, inexpensive, cheap insurance, but not necessarybut a good idea (conservative)… as someone who has experienced “panic attacks”, the current situation should not cause that…  like Alfred E Newman, “Why worry?”  Or, paraphrase McFadden, “don’t worry, be happy, but be thinking”.

      Tia nailed it.

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