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TIM BURKE: Practice some common sense concerning coronavirus

Nevada’s tourism and gaming industries could take a substantial hit this year because of coronavirus fears.

According to a report from the U.S. Travel Association, inbound travel to the U.S. is expected to fall 6 percent over the next three months compared to the same period in 2019 amid the coronavirus outbreak.

In 2018, there were nearly 237,000 Las Vegas visitors from China, making the country the fifth-largest market for international visitation to the city, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. But is the panic over the virus justified? Or is it overblown?

There are several reasons that should raise everyone’s level of concern. The virus is completely new to humans, and we don’t know exactly how bad it will get. As of Feb. 29, it has already killed nearly 3,000 people, over 2,700 of them in China. It appears to be very infectious. The mortality rate has been reported to be as high as 2%.

Cases are now appearing in people who didn’t travel to China, and who didn’t have any contact with known cases. Coronavirus illness (COVID-19) has now been reported in over 60 countries, on every continent except Antarctica. No matter where you are, it is probably coming your way.

On the other hand, there are several very good reasons why we should stay calm. The mortality rate is probably much, much less than 2%. The rapid spread of COVID-19 suggests that many more people are infected than those who have confirmed cases. The number of people who have no symptoms or very mild symptoms are likely to be ten times as high as the number of reported cases. That would mean the mortality rate might be only 0.2%, or even lower.

Three thousand deaths are a lot, but it’s a very small number compared to the annual deaths from the influenza virus, which is widespread.

As of Feb. 22, in the current season, there were at least 32 million cases of flu in the United States, 310,000 hospitalizations and 18,000 flu deaths, according to the CDC. The worldwide totals are far higher. So, in terms of numbers, the world is definitely overreacting to the new coronavirus.

An experimental vaccine for the coronavirus may be ready for testing in humans within a few months but will take much longer, at least a year or two, to become available for widespread use. Flu vaccines, on the other hand, are widely available and generally 40 percent to 60 percent effective, which means they will reduce cases by that amount in a population that has been vaccinated, compared with one that has not.

It is not unreasonable to want to compare the current situation with coronavirus to a flu outbreak, but there really isn’t enough information yet about the virus to draw a factual comparison. What should be considered though is that the virus is not in place of the flu, but a new type of virus that can have similar effects and be added on top of the 3% to 11% of the U.S. population that gets the flu in a year.

Much of the coronavirus panic we are now seeing is media-driven because of politics. The Democratic candidates for president have accused President Trump of calling the virus a hoax and not doing enough to find a cure. Factcheck.org reports that the president did not call coronavirus a hoax. The president described the disease as the Democrats’ “new hoax” at a political rally on Feb. 28 in South Carolina. President Trump said the next day, that when he used the word “hoax,” he was referring to Democrats finding fault with his administration’s response to the coronavirus, not the virus itself. It is yet another indicator of how shallow and self-serving many politicians are now. I do not know of any virus that checks your political affiliation before it tries to infect you. A bipartisan response is needed, not political maneuvering.

So, what can you do? Don’t panic. If you feel sick, stay home. If you are really sick go to your doctor or to urgent care. Probably a good idea to not travel to areas with high rates of infection (China and Iran). Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Be self-aware of any respiratory issues you may be experiencing and seek treatment. Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe. Wash your hands with soap and water (what a novel idea). What about those facemasks you see people wearing in public? There’s still no real need for the public to wear face masks, according to the CDC. The main point of them is to keep someone who is already sick from infecting others. The only ones that actually work are surgical masks, not the ones that you buy from your local hardware box store. Although they do look rather hilarious on most people.

Does the fear of catching the far more prevalent flu virus stop you from going about your daily routines? Does it stop you from traveling? Probably not. Before the U.S economy takes a big hit and before a large part of our state’s economic base (tourism and gaming) loses momentum and hurts all of us, people need to quit losing their minds over the coronavirus and use some common sense. But probably not.

Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident. Contact him at timstakenv@gmail.com

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