Why you shouldn’t be freaking out about the new coronavirus

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Brinda Ambal

What should you be freaking out about instead? A lot of things.

News sites are overflowing with stories about the novel coronavirus spreading from Wuhan, China’s wholesale seafood market. They caution against travelling, post alarming statistics and generally predict impending doom. Here’s why you shouldn’t actually be worried about the virus, and what you should be worrying about instead.

The novel coronavirus generally causes worry because it is from the same family of viruses as Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS), which both had devastating effects worldwide early this century.

However, there is one big difference between then and now: the time. Data and information is spread much quicker now than it was in the past. It is more readily available to the public. This means not all of the information published is entirely accurate. Developments in social media mean it is also easier for the general public themselves to spread firsthand experiences. A person might post about their symptoms when they might just be coming down with the flu, which then spreads unnecessary panic.

Some argue that more readily available data is actually beneficial, and in some cases this is actually true. For example, the basic reproduction number (R0), among other statistics like death tolls and locations of reported cases, have been quickly published. However, the R0 value is highly susceptible to change as more data unfolds, a fact that the general public isn’t widely aware of.

Also, cases of the coronavirus are still largely centered in China. As of Feb. 2, only around 1% of the total 17,387 reported cases were from outside of China. This means you do not have to be losing sleep in Ballwin, Mo. over possibly contracting the virus.

However, racist memes wrongfully attributing the spread of the disease to Chinese diet and culture are making their way around the internet. Instead of misinforming the public by resurfacing a stigma that Chinese people are “dirty” and therefore carriers of disease, we should be less worried about the disease itself and more worried about the negative political and social effects of this gross and unjust discrimination.

Just because you don’t need to worry about the coronavirus doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still be diligent. The CDC has reported 8,000 flu-related deaths in the United States alone since the beginning of the flu season, so wash your hands and sneeze into your sleeves. Don’t forget to get your flu shot–it’s not too late. Just calm down and don’t freak out, because what you really need is probably just a chill pill.