What you should know about coronavirus COVID-19 (and what not to worry about)
Misinformation is rampant—but it is the Internet.
- COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that has likely been transmitted from another animal to humans.
- As of today, over 94,200 people have been affected worldwide, with 3,200 deaths.
- While the American public is generally not in danger, minimizing the risk is not smart either.
What it is
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses, ranging from the common cold to MERS and SARS. COVID-19, the coronavirus currently under discussion, is a novel strain that is new to humans. All coronaviruses can be transmitted from other animals to humans. Affected humans experience respiratory problems, fever, and coughing. Those with weakened immune systems, such as elderly patients and smokers, are most likely to die from COVID-19.
The estimated mortality rate is between 2-3.4 percent. An exact number is hard to pin down as there is no certainty on the exact number of cases worldwide, though the John Hopkins tracker currently lists over 94,200 people affected. Thus far, over 51,000 people have fully recovered.
While there are a lot of comparisons to the flu, COVID-19 is an entirely different virus. The flu vaccine will not protect you against a coronavirus.
Where it came from
The search for Patient Zero is ongoing. The World Health Organization (WHO) speculates that the virus started at an outdoor market in Wuhan, China. As the organization writes, "The current most likely hypothesis is that an intermediary host animal has played a role in the transmission."
Thus far that speculation is either on bats or pangolins. Bats host over 500 coronaviruses and are considered one of the most transmissible animals to humans. Pangolins are scaly anteaters. They are illegal to purchase in China, though they constitute a booming source of illegal trade. Both animals could have played a role in the transmission to humans, but thus far there is no conclusive evidence.
Effects in America (so far)
Four new cases were announced this morning (March 4) in New York. So far 118 cases have been recorded, with nine confirmed deaths. With six new cases in Los Angeles County also announced this morning (causing country officials to declare a local state of emergency), the total in California is 51, the highest of any state. Globally, we know of over 94,200 affected and 3,200 deaths.
The most pressing problems are a lack of testing kits and respirators. The shortage in testing kits has been a major failure of this administration. China is currently conducting 1.6 million tests per week; as of five days ago, the US had only tested 459 people. New kits are reportedly being produced. Meanwhile, the government has reportedly ordered 500 million respirators and face masks over the next year-and-a-half.
The economic impact is hard to estimate. A few weeks ago, it was estimated that Los Angeles tourism could suffer a nearly $1 billion impact from the virus. My wife, who works in a downtown Los Angeles hotel, says that every day room blocks, conferences, and filming are being cancelled throughout the area.
A few hours north, Google recently cancelled its annual Google I/O developer conference. Twitter, Facebook, Intel, and Amazon Studios are among the companies that have pulled out of SXSW. These cancellations affect a number of industries: travel, lodging, food, entertainment. The nationwide economic impact will be tough to estimate at this time, especially if, as with the Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19, the virus returns in the fall.
Sold out sign is seen on a shelve of a supermarket. Sanitary gels and antibacterial hand wash products become out of stock in several supermarkets as the fear of coronavirus outbreak grows in New York, United States on March 4, 2020.
Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
A (brief) history of pandemics
Pandemics originated with animal domestication roughly 12,000 years ago. Before that time, human interactions with other animals was limited. With the emergence of modern agriculture and global trade (and conquer), disease became more widespread.
Notable pandemics throughout history include cholera, in which seven pandemics in the nineteenth and twentieth century killed tens of millions of people; smallpox, responsible for 300-500 million deaths in the twentieth century; measles, which killed over 200 million in the last 150 years; and malaria, which killed 655,000 people as recently as 2010.
For better or worse, COVID-19 is being compared to the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919. Over 500 million people were affected globally, with death estimates ranging from 17 million all the way up to 100 million. The danger of relating this coronavirus is that, as mentioned above, this is not a flu; no current vaccines will protect you, and the mortality rate is much higher. Most deaths from that flu epidemic occurred during the second year, however, which we should treat as a cautionary tale. Preparation is essential.
To hand sanitize or not to hand sanitize?
A COVID-19 vaccine is at least a year away. That means potential outbreaks right now or in the fall will have to rely on best practices and preventive care.
At the moment, the consensus is that you are generally safe. Hand washing and not touching your face remain our best defense. The CDC even released a facial hair guide for respirators (which doesn't bode well for my beard). In summation: live life, cautiously.
One of the most disturbing trends is the hoarding of hand sanitizers and face masks. Those masks are needed by health care workers, who are the most affected population. You're not decreasing your risk, but you are certainly putting others in harm's way. As Time notes, "The CDC recommends surgical masks only for people who already show symptoms of coronavirus and must go outside, since wearing a mask can help prevent spreading the virus by protecting others nearby when you cough or sneeze."
On Amazon, a 12-pack of Purell is currently being sold for $400, while an 8-pack of another brand is going for the bargain of $130. Hand sanitizers are not as effective as soap. DIY hand sanitizer instructions are booming on social media, yet these solutions can prove dangerous. Keep a bottle of Dr. Bronner's nearby and go about your day.
We need to be smart about all of this and should not minimize the risks. But fear only creates more anxiety, which has a negative impact on your immune system. All that stress will only make things worse if you do become affected.
- Coronavirus: Viral video graph omits crucial information - Big Think ›
- How likely are you to die from coronavirus? - Big Think ›
- The politicalization of masks is not helping - Big Think ›
- Searches about anxiety hit new high during pandemic - Big Think ›
- Anxiety related internet searches increased during COVID-19 - Big Think ›
Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live this Thursday at 1pm ET.
Hungarian cartographer travels the world while mapping its treasures.
- Simple idea, stunning result: the world's watersheds in glorious colors.
- The maps are the work of Hungarian cartographer Robert Szucs.
- His job: to travel and map the world, one good cause at a time.
The world<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTE0MjUyNS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzU3Njk1M30.rRdZpcl0bfVi4oBsljHdZSbcX0New9rdLcx6fr2mD7Y/img.png?width=980" id="f982a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fa67421340f881d5ab91463514cf9a6d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Can you spot the world's ten largest drainage basins? In order of magnitude: Amazon, Congo, Nile, Mississippi, Ob, Parana, Yenisei, Lena, Niger, Amur. Image source: Grasshopper Geography
Africa<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTE0MjUyNi9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzOTI2MzI0MX0.OeTS-scZwBES4AlZAan7fBlaBkznkig5hPjgcd1j6hw/img.png?width=980" id="e987c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2d3a8999ed4071a123b30efc5652fee9" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Africa is home to the rivers with the world's second- and third-largest catchment areas: the Congo (in blue), with a basin of 1.44 million square miles (3.73 million km2), and the Nile (in red), with basin area of 1.26 million square miles (3.25 million km2). The Nile is the longest river in Africa, though (4,130 miles; 6,650 km), followed by the Congo: 2,900 miles (4,700 km). The Congo River's alternative name, Zaire, comes from the Kikongo nzadi o nzere ('river swallowing rivers'). Image source: Grasshopper Geography
Europe<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTE0MjUyOS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NTkzOTMyMH0.tq5fjnq8wvLqXY0C9gzfoUd0ahOAQ7IZQxbpVnC1FdY/img.png?width=980" id="a8ec4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1ce5f59691501103343e080905ce74a3" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The Volga (in yellow) is the river with the biggest catchment area in Europe (just under 545,000 square miles; 1.41 million km2). It flows exclusively through Russia, and the catchment area is entirely within Russia as well. Europe's number two is the Danube (in orange), which flows through 10 countries — more than any other river in the world. Its drainage basin (just over 307,000 square miles; almost 796,000 km2) includes nine more countries. Image: Grasshopper Geography
Germany<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTE0MjUzMC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0Mzk4ODA3Nn0.qX1sOfJWAI7TUbTQCiIob-R5p4_wj299wEtrYAUREmg/img.png?width=980" id="d5efa" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8e73c53d75840f21b4f2ca4b8a1e7f51" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The hydrographic map of Germany is dominated by just four major drainage systems: the Danube (in orange) in the south, the Rhine (in blue) in the west, the Elbe (in purple) in the east and the Weser (in green) between the latter two. In Antiquity, the Rhine was the border between the Roman Empire and the Germans. Rome once attempted to shift the border to the Elbe, which would have radically altered the course of history, but it suffered a massive defeat in 9 CE at the Teutoburger Wald (roughly between both rivers). Image: Grasshopper Geography
Great Britain and Ireland<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTE0MjUzMS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1OTk2MjM3MX0.nDy__OLIyC1arty4_2xd54fjTzmfsIZo-2pe5QRjjA4/img.png?width=980" id="31a6f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d089f66097f37a10ab854eaccdac3581" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Both Ireland and Great Britain are islands, as a result of which neither boasts a continental-class river. Twenty of the 30 longest British rivers are less than 100 miles (160 km) long. The longest river in Britain is the Severn (220 miles, 354 km), its catchment area shown in blue in the southwest. Ireland's longest river is the Shannon (224 miles, 360 km). Even combined they're not as long as France's Seine (483 miles, 777 km). Image: Grasshopper Geography
United States<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTE0MjUzNC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDYyMzEyM30.7S_83dA6bcLyID_7BhH1R_OTy61tpgDZrBMQ_iPwnjM/img.png?width=980" id="a879d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a7c74a7b5a7887fb2d13b40d5d96223c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Spread-eagled across the central part of the United States, the Mississippi's drainage basin covers all or parts of 32 U.S. states (and two Canadian provinces). The easternmost point of Ol' Man River's catchment area is really far east: Cobb Hill in northern Pennsylvania. Here rises the Allegheny, tributary of the Ohio, which in turn flows into the Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois. Image: Grasshopper Geography
Washington State<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTE0MjUzNS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MzU2MzM4OH0.mniqbkEQq84rNaWOQIl4fB4mOhNdJf5WactNyE_VsyM/img.png?width=980" id="adc4d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="97eb5a5add49c06ef00ff0bca812b380" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Even leaving out the Mississippi, there's enough going on in the rest of North America to keep the eye occupied. Here's a drainage map of Washington State. The big fish in this much smaller pond is the Columbia River (drainage area in blue), the largest river in the Pacific Northwest. Only in the western third of the state is there a colourful counterpoint, in the multitude of smaller river basins that are draining into the Pacific or into Puget Sound. Image: Grasshopper Geography
Australia<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTE0MjUzNi9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzOTM0ODM2NH0.U7vckwnoNoxf-bk8SuYO246hNMpR2zXILILsd4pas9o/img.png?width=980" id="38c2b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0c44d30d61c6cb94b8d5c7205cbabd58" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
At 1,558 miles (2,508 km), the Murray is Australia's longest river. It is often considered in conjunction with the Darling (915 miles, 1,472 km), the country's third-longest river, which flows into the Murray. The Murray-Darling basin (in blue, in the southeast) covers just under 410,000 square miles (1.06 million km2), or 14 percent of Australia's total territory. Don't let that spidery network of river courses in the interior fool you: Australia is the world's driest inhabited continent (Antarctica, bizarrely, is drier). Image: Grasshopper Geography
Russia<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTE0MjUzNy9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzg5MzIxOX0.WhShHLjjWdEh4FF_OZsY1oTN3Vc77X29TbMYbVHrHqA/img.png?width=980" id="f5cee" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="53acd93f1ab67be979e6ab128c144ce6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Four of the world's largest drainage basins are in Russia: the Ob, Yenisei and Lena (origin of Vladimir I. Ulyanov's nom de guerre, Lenin) entirely and the Amur, shared with China. The Volga may be Europe's longest river, but 84 percent or Russia's surface water is east of the Urals, in Siberia. The sparsely-populated region is traversed by 40 rivers longer than 1,000 km. Combined, the Ob, Yenisey and Lena rivers cover a drainage area of about 8 million km2, discharging nearly 50,000 m3 of water per second in the Arctic. Image: Grasshopper Geography
Scientists have found evidence of hot springs near sites where ancient hominids settled, long before the control of fire.
Finances can be a stressor, regardless of tax bracket. Here are tips for making better money decisions.
- Whether you have a lot of money or a lot of debt, it matters how you handle your personal finances. A crucial step when it comes to saving is to reassess your relationship with money and to learn to adopt a broader, more logical point of view.
- In this video, social innovator and activist Vicki Robin, psychologist Daniel Kahneman, Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton, and author Bruce Feiler offer advice on achieving financial independence, learning to control your emotions, spending smarter, and teaching children about money.
- It all starts with education and understanding. The more you know about how money works, the better you will be at avoiding mistakes and the easier it will be to take control of your financial circumstances.