It’s in the news, it’s infiltrated our minds, and made its way into daily conversation. Many of us are wondering, how worried should I really be about Coronavirus?

Does its existence mean that I should cancel my trip abroad, especially to Asia?

I found myself worrying about the same thing a couple of weeks ago. I even considered moving away from the person on the bike next to me in spin class due to her coughing. Who did she think she was, waltzing into class with what might be a deadly virus!?

Then I had to reign it back a bit. Was I being crazy? How much of the worry I had about this virus was directly related to the alarmist headlines I was seeing in the news? I’m sure you’re wondering the same thing. How big of a problem is this and does it mean that you shouldn’t travel or try to plan any trips right now?

My aim with this post is not to provide answers, but rather straight facts and analysis based on them from which you can draw your own conclusions. I think that’s largely missing from the media circus around Coronavirus, and before anyone makes any rash decisions, it would be great to have a balanced, logical look at the numbers, right? So let’s dive in:

The Media Loves a Good Pandemic

Photo by Muhd Asyraaf used under Creative Commons

I turned off the news on my phone a week and a half ago. I can’t even articulate how amazing this has been for my psyche. Did you know that alarmist headlines, which are increasingly the norm these days, affect our ability to imagine a more positive outcome? They directly impact the part of our brain that allows for creative thinking and problem-solving. Yikes.

Human beings naturally fall prey to our negativity bias. Back in the hunter/gatherer days, being super cautious and assuming the worst was necessary for survival. Often, we are unconsciously acting on this primitive nature despite living in a modern world. Evolution just can’t keep up with how quickly things are modernizing, especially with how quickly information spreads now. I’m sure we’ve all felt the effects of fake news and watched as many elections around the world were thrown by alarmist headlines skewing people’s worldview.

According to psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, people estimate the probability of an event by the ease with which such instances come to mind. If we are peppered with negative news, we tend to believe it all to be true. To me that means we need to be the selective bouncer to our minds and brains. What should be allowed in? 

In a world where content is constantly competing for our attention, what is more likely to get a click? The media does a poor job of educating people, and an increasingly better job of grabbing our attention by any means necessary. It often glosses over reality and ignores the good things in the world that deserve equal attention. We’d do better to quit reading it altogether. I’m certainly happier after doing so.

While this may seem like a digression from the point, Coronavirus is just one of a string of media circuses that have come out in the last decade. Do you remember Swine Flu? What about Avian Influenza or SARS? Let’s dive into the real numbers here and how the media reacted:

SARS: Just over 8,000 people were infected resulting in 774 deaths. News outlets published articles that were, frankly, racist.

Avian Flu: Avian Flu (H5N1): The mortality rate was high, killing more than half of those infected, however the death toll as of January 2020 is only 455 people (3 deaths in the last 3 years) despite claims that it was the Monster at our Door.

Swine Flu (H1N1pdm09): An estimated 300,000 people died (range: 152,000-575,000) and 300,000 pigs were killed (by Egypt if that was the actual reason since there were no cases there yet at the time and would not have helped) before the virus receded, at which point companies in Europe had poured massive resources into developing vaccines that were no longer urgent (although it is part of the current flu shot).

MERS: Mostly affecting those in Saudi Arabia, there are over 800 confirmed deaths as a result of MERS and 17,000 people were quarantined in Seoul after an outbreak that ultimately killed 37 people.

There are more epidemics like Ebola and Zika, many of which prompt racism and panic, but there’s one big thing that everyone tends to ignore about these pandemics. Allow me to pose a question:

Do You Religiously Get a Flu Shot?

What I keep coming back to when I think about Coronavirus is how many people die of Influenza every year, and yet it rarely makes any headlines.

According to the CDC website, estimated 45 million people had the flu from 2017 to 2018. Of those, about 61,000 people died. That was in the US alone. At the time of this writing, about 37,600 people have been infected with Coronavirus resulting in nearly 815 deaths and over 2980 recoveries. Many of the deaths are in the elderly or the immunocompromised.

Why is Coronavirus so much scarier than seasonal flu? Perhaps it’s a case of the devil we know versus the devil we don’t.

Coronavirus is still misunderstood. It has spread faster than SARS, and since we can’t predict the future, we don’t yet know what the ultimate outcome will be. If history is any indication, given the rise in worldwide human population as well as growing bacterial resistance — cough cough, stop taking antibiotics for viruses and stop buying antibacterial hand soap — it’s only a matter of time until a major pandemic wipes out a significant chunk of the human population. Is it going to be the Coronavirus? We don’t know yet.

I know that putting down alarmist news headlines while also reminding you that a big pandemic is unavoidable might seem contradictory but again, my only aim here is to provide facts rather than push you in one direction or the other. Now, what does that mean for your planned trip?

Should you Cancel Your Trip Because of Coronavirus?

As you consider canceling your trip due to the Coronavirus, it’s probably worth mentioning that you’re unlikely to get reimbursed by your travel insurance. There are very few travel insurance companies out there that cover pandemics, as well as civil unrest, and war – you know, just the exact things other than a personal tragedy that would make someone rethink a trip. Therefore if you make the personal decision to cancel your trip, the financial burden will likely fall on you.

I’m certainly not advising that you make a decision about your personal health based on finances, in fact I’m not suggesting anything at all (just providing information to help you make an informed decision), but it’s interesting that almost nobody talks about whether they should travel or not during flu season, isn’t it?

So is there anything that you can do to protect yourself, other than staying home? Of course, if you live in the US, staying home doesn’t mean absolute lack of exposure to Coronavirus with confirmed cases in several US states. The WHO recommends washing hands regularly as a much more effective method than face masks (which I think just make people feel good but do very little against inhaling airborne particles).

Of course, the decision on whether to travel or not during the outbreak is up to each individual person. I haven’t let an outbreak stop me from hopping on a plane yet, but that’s just one girl’s opinion, and that’s not what this article is about, anyway.

Have you canceled a trip or changed your plans due to the virus? Let us know in the comments!


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