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Flu kills 12,000 in 4 months. Is coronavirus panic overblown?
The CDC estimates that more than 210,000 people in the U.S. have been hospitalized by the flu this season.
- The 2019-2020 flu season, which began in late September, is estimated to have already killed 12,000 to 30,000 people in the U.S., according to the CDC.
- The death toll for the new strain of coronavirus remains far lower, prompting some people to argue that the public's concern about coronavirus is misplaced.
- Still, there are valid reasons to be concerned about the new virus.
The new coronavirus has so far killed more than 1,300 people around the world, and it's infected at least 15 people in the U.S. But meanwhile, the flu has killed at least 12,000 people in the U.S. alone, with flu activity hovering above baseline for 12 weeks straight.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this flu season (which started September 29, 2019) has so far seen an estimated:
- 22 to 31 million cases
- 210,000 to 370,000 hospitalizations
- 12,000 to 30,000 deaths
- At least 78 pediatric deaths
The 2019-2020 flu season has been relatively bad, caused in roughly equal parts by the two main strains of influenza: A and B.
"Currently, we have high levels of influenza in the country, which started out really early this year, around Thanksgiving," Dr. Bernard Camins, medical director for infection prevention at the Mount Sinai Health System in New York City, told U.S. News & World Report. "Pretty much the entire country has high levels of influenza-like illness right now."
Coronavirus Outbreak : Illustration
(Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)
In light of the data, is the public's hysteria over coronavirus misplaced? Some think so. Buzzfeed said: "Don't worry about the new coronavirus, worry about the flu." Axios suggested: "If you're freaking out about coronavirus but you didn't get a flu shot, you've got it backwards." And health officials in Maine and California offered similar reality checks.
But these "viral whataboutism" critiques — as Wired's Roxanne Khamsi dubbed them — might be missing the point. Sure, the public may be falling prey to saliency bias — our tendency to focus on information that's more prominent or emotionally striking, while ignoring less remarkable (but potentially more important) information.
However, it's not an either-or situation, where being concerned about coronavirus means you're necessarily ignorant about the dangers of the common flu. What's more, there are reasons to be uniquely concerned about coronavirus.
For one, coronavirus appears to be far more lethal: The fatality rate for this season's flu has been about 0.05 percent, while it's been about 2 percent for coronavirus.
Coronavirus also seems to spread more easily from person to person. Scientists use the "basic reproduction number" — or R0 — to estimate the transmissibility of a virus. The flu has an R0 of about 1.3 (meaning each person who gets the flu is likely to spread it to 1.3 people), while coronavirus has an R0 of about 2.2. (However, scientists are still trying to determine the R0 of coronavirus, and the number is likely to change as the virus spreads and mutates.)
But perhaps the biggest difference between the two is predictability. Experts still aren't sure how deadly the new coronavirus will turn out to be, or how far it will spread. In contrast, health officials know roughly what to expect from influenza at the start of each flu season, as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a recent White House press conference:
"Despite the morbidity and mortality with influenza, there's a certainty […] of seasonal flu. [...] I can tell you all, guaranteed, that as we get into March and April, the flu cases are going to go down. You could predict pretty accurately what the range of the mortality is and the hospitalizations [will be]. [...] The issue now with [2019-nCoV] is that there's a lot of unknowns."
One major unknown with the new coronavirus lies in prevention. Unlike the flu, there's no vaccine, though scientists are working to develop one. Until then, the CDC recommends a few steps to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, which include coronaviruses and flu viruses:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- Why experts are certain another influenza pandemic will occur - Big ... ›
- The universal flu vaccine might have just arrived - Big Think ›
Join multiple Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Judith Light live on Big Think at 2 pm ET on Monday.
Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Building a personal connection with students can counteract some negative side effects of remote learning.
- Not being able to engage with students in-person due to the pandemic has presented several new challenges for educators, both technical and social. Digital tools have changed the way we all think about learning, but George Couros argues that more needs to be done to make up for what has been lost during "emergency remote teaching."
- One interesting way he has seen to bridge that gap and strengthen teacher-student and student-student relationships is through an event called Identity Day. Giving students the opportunity to share something they are passionate about makes them feel more connected and gets them involved in their education.
- "My hope is that we take these skills and these abilities we're developing through this process and we actually become so much better for our kids when we get back to our face-to-face setting," Couros says. He adds that while no one can predict the future, we can all do our part to adapt to it.
Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.