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Rob Sheldon: Opinion on pandemic undermines efforts

Other Voices
Rob Sheldon

Don Rogers is flatly wrong to use his position as The Union’s publisher to broadcast his opinion of a pandemic, especially in the absence of facts. The Union further does its community a disservice to publish commentary like his, further undermining the efforts of those inside and outside our community who are working hard to minimize a possible disaster.

Here are some of the facts of COVID-19:

This virus has a seven to 14-day period during which an infected person may show no symptoms but still infect other people. Some of you who played a popular “Pandemic” game online years ago may remember that this was one of the best ways to ensure that an infection spread far and wide before governments could begin to mount a response.

This virus is highly infectious, capable of being transmitted by people coughing within 6 feet of each other, or even simply touching an infected surface up to nine days after it was handled by someone carrying the virus.

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This isn’t a justification for panic; panic is always unjustified.

Infection rates are massively under-reported because testing is still broadly unavailable in the United States. We don’t think very many people are infected with this because we aren’t testing very many people. For example, Washington state at the time of this writing has only 416 confirmed cases, but fancy math extrapolating from that state’s mortality rate and from the infection’s incubation period suggests, conservatively, that there are around 1,100 total cases there right now, just 13 days after its first reported death. There are many reports of symptomatic people who are being denied testing or aren’t bothering to seek testing.

This virus can lead to acute respiratory distress (“really bad pneumonia”) for older people or people with underlying health conditions or compromised immune systems. Think of your older or already ill friends and loved ones, those of Mr. Rogers’ age perhaps, and hope for their sake that they somehow escape this thing.

In countries with a slow, inadequate response — like the U.S., fueled by “it’s just the flu, big deal” kinds of attitudes — the mortality rate is currently around 3% to 4%.

Current estimates are that around 20% of cases require hospitalization. How many beds does Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital have available?

Around 5% of cases require monitoring in an intensive care unit. How many Americans can afford to pay for this level of hospital care right now?

Around 2.5% of cases require ventilators. There is not nearly enough equipment in the U.S. to support this level of care for this many people. Doctors are being forced to choose who gets treated and who doesn’t.

Based on these and many other factors, the American Hospital Association estimated 96 million cases in America alone over a two month period, with 4.8 million hospital admissions and 480,000 fatalities, and an overall health care burden about 10 times greater than a “severe flu season.”

All of this is going to put a terrible strain on our local health care workers, who deserve better than to have their local newspaper spreading misinformation.

This isn’t a justification for panic; panic is always unjustified. The people who are clearing out store shelves of basic necessities and hoarding them at home are contributing to the overall problem.

But, the closing of so many events and discouraging of large gatherings represents the most minimal of precautions. These are completely reasonable efforts to slow the spread of infection and give our health care infrastructure the time it needs to treat those that are affected. Other countries, like Italy, are begging us to learn from their mistakes and take it far more seriously than we are.

For any newspaper to be worth its subscription price, its responsibilities should include the accurate and timely release of crucial information. All those involved in printing columns like Mr. Rogers’ should be ashamed.

Rob Sheldon lives in Grass Valley.


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