It’s hard to get a solid grasp of just how concerned we should be about the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. On the one hand, officials tell us not to worry, that it’s just like catching the flu we already struggle to avoid each year. But then we hear stories about how transmittable it is and how quickly it is spreading and yikes!
First, it seemed like a problem confined to China, but then it exploded across Asia. And in the last few weeks, it has rapidly spread into every continent except Antarctica, including confirmed cases next door in Georgia and Tennessee. It’s inevitable we will see it here. It probably already is.
It was unthinkable just a couple of months ago that we’d be reconsidering the wisdom of putting large groups of people in confined spaces, but here we are, rethinking music festivals and basketball tournaments. I hope that I’ll be able to sit with other proud parents in Wildcat Stadium watching my daughter’s high school graduation in May. Right now, there’s no reason to think that won’t happen, but then again, if contagion were to become a major health risk, I assume there are no guarantees.
Some of the fear is a result of risks being overblown in media coverage and spread (like a virus) across social media. We must balance between giving enough information so you can take reasonable precautions vs scaring the living daylights out of you. One hopes politicians aren’t more concerned with the stock market than the infected count.
Perhaps the biggest thing to come from this public health scare is how flippant we’ve become about the killers that are already in the room:
• Cancer: According to the American Cancer Society, in the U.S., an estimated 606,520 people will die from it in 2020. This equates to 1,660 people dying each day.
• Heart Disease: One person dies every 37 seconds in the U.S. from cardiovascular disease. About 647,000 Americans die from it each year—that’s one in every four deaths.
• Diabetes: More Americans die from it every year than from AIDS and breast cancer combined, according to the American Diabetes Association. According to the CDC, 79,535 deaths occur each year due to diabetes, which also causes blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, strokes and lower limb amputations.
• Suicide: Every day, approximately 129 Americans take their own life. In 2017 (latest available data), there were 47,173 reported suicide deaths in the U.S., according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for those between the ages of 10 and 34 in the United States. More Americans suffer from depression than coronary heart disease, cancer, and HIV/AIDS despite it being among the most treatable of psychiatric illnesses.
• Homicide: The CDC facts for 2017 reveal 19,510 deaths, including 14,542 caused by firearms. To be fair, some of these gun deaths are suicides/self-inflicted or accidental/unintentional injuries. And some will argue that the numbers would be even higher if their ability to carry a gun or keep one in the home for protection were infringed upon.
• Accidents: Americans die in 169,936 unintentional injuries, with are the third leading cause of death, according to the CDC. This includes 36,338 unintentional falls, 40,231 people killed in motor vehicle traffic accidents, and 64,795 unintentional poisonings.
• Drug overdose: Heroin and Opioids accounted for 67,367 deaths in 2018, according to the CDC. A study examining urban-rural differences found that rates were higher for females in rural than in urban counties.
Those numbers don’t even include blood clots, carbon monoxide poisoning, concussions, foodborne diseases, HIV/AIDS, pneumonia, Lyme disease, rotavirus, mosquito bites, etc.
We arrogantly presume to be at the top of the food chain when there are a number of microscopic organisms or environmental catastrophes that could wipe us out.
Despite the number of significant public health concerns in the United States, people gamble when it comes to skipping the seasonal flu shot.
We’re all going to die someday. Hopefully when we are very old, peacefully, in our sleep, surrounded by family marveling at what remarkable lives we led.
Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, but we are not completely helpless to control our longevity. We can’t crawl in a cave, afraid to live our lives, and we do need to be more aware of things we can do to increase our chances of survival even if the coronavirus is completely extinguished tomorrow. Actions such as:
• Making healthier choices like limiting the amount of alcohol we drink, keeping a healthy weight, getting regular physical activity, avoiding tobacco, and protecting our skin.
• Limiting the sugar in our diets to lower blood sugar.
• Eating foods high in fiber and low in saturated fats, trans fat and cholesterol.
• Getting screening tests regularly to find breast, cervical and colorectal cancers early, when treatment is likely to work best.
• Checking our cholesterol and blood pressure, along with taking our prescribed medicines as directed.
• Getting vaccinated against diseases like the human papillomavirus.
• Turning off the TV and Facebook. We spend entirely too much time in front of screens, soaking in that junk food of the mind. I don’t think it’s very healthy to saturate ourselves in it.
Whenever I look at the obituaries in this newspaper and see someone my age or younger, I have a bit of a panic attack. I may not know their cause of death, but it definitely motivates me to pay better attention to my own health. I’m the lone remaining male in my immediate family because of heart disease and diabetes. And I want to stick around for a while longer, thank you.
I’ve started replacing sodas with that delicious alkaline water from The Blue Jug, and I want to get back to buying more veggies from Foodland to make smoothies again.
Returning to the newspaper means leaving my desk more often. I love getting outside and doing photography, at least partially because it does require physical exertion.
Now that things are warming up, I have no excuse not to be at the VFW walking track each evening, walking in circles while jamming to tunes or listening to podcasts through headphones and taking in beautiful sunsets. I hope some of you will join me and do the same. We can encourage each other to live happier, healthier lives.
If you are concerned about the coronavirus, do as recommended and wash your hands, avoid touching your face, clean and disinfect frequently and stay home when you’re sick – and be aware that becoming healthier will not only help your immune system fight viruses but also ensure that the life you want to save is one worth living.
— Steven Stiefel is a staff writer at the Times-Journal. His column appears in Saturday editions. Email: email@example.com.