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COVID-19: Why the Panic?

These are difficult times. We are in the midst of a pandemic which is causing us to halt society through panic about spread. And while the current fluctuating mortality of COVID-19 is at least up to 4 percent in certain populations - very scary because of the high transmissibility of the infection and the translation of percentages into real lives - it still at the same time isn't the 10 percent mortality of SARS or 34 percent mortality of MERS, its cousins. So why the panic?

The current rapid spread, this idea that we too might soon really catch it and die is terrifying us. We are terrified because COVID-19 is imminently reminding us (with real-time tracking) that we are mortal. The reminder of our mortality is causing us to scramble like rabbits hoarding food and water and stockpiling basic necessities like toilet paper. It is causing us to become socially averse and reclusive. The reminder of our mortality is causing us to re-discover our etiquette of health* - hand washing, mouth covering with a sneeze or a cough, self-quarantining - as well as question certain aspects of our culture such as conventions of greeting and getting together.

But as in the fable of the ant and the improvident grasshopper, it does no good to think about things when it is too late, especially when they are inevitable. It is not good to think about mortality and what causes it when it's too late. We each are not here for long upon this earth and if we wish to maximize our time here, if we wish to have that maximized time be one of quality, we must be realistic about the threats to our existence. It really isn't sensible to wake up suddenly in the midst of a pandemic. By then, as we see now, much of the reaction will be like the panicked grasshopper.



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