Source: Brian C.Joondeph, MD
Although the “racist”-sounding “Wuhan virus” is now labeled as a pandemic by the World Health Organization, in America the real pandemic, more accurately described as pandemonium, is at the local supermarkets where store shelves resemble those in Venezuela.
America is in the grips of a panic the likes of which we haven’t seen before. What exactly is a pandemic, other than a scary sounding word from science fiction movies? According to WHO, “Pandemic refers to an epidemic that has spread over several countries or continents, usually affecting a large number of people.”
Per the Johns Hopkins dashboard, at the time of this writing, there are 147,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus spanning the globe, with 5500 deaths and 72.000 recoveries. Cases in China have leveled off over the past several weeks, suggesting that we in the U.S. may see the same over the upcoming weeks to months.
Wuhan virus is not the first viral pandemic America has had to contend with. The last one was the H1N1 virus from 2009. How did America react to that last pandemic 10 years ago? Does anyone have more than a vague recollection of H1N1, also known as swine flu? No one will forget this current panic, but most have forgotten H1N1.
During the swine flu pandemic, were there mass cancellations of events including conferences, concerts, sporting events, and entire professional sports leagues? Did colleges cancel classes, finishing the remainder of their semesters online? Were travel restrictions imposed between America and Europe? Were panicked Americans hoarding everything from toilet paper to pasta?
If these things happened during the swine flu pandemic, I certainly have no recollection. In 2009, congressional Democrat leaders weren’t criticizing the president, instead they were trying to force through a government takeover of healthcare, known as ObamaCare. Criticizing its namesake wasn’t in the media’s playbook and they all but ignored the swine flu.
What a difference a decade and a president makes.
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One might think the H1N1 virus pandemic was relatively mild since life proceeded as usual for most Americans, rather than the zombie apocalypse we are now living through. H1N1 was also referred to as the swine flu without objections from animal rights groups. In 2009, a name was just a name, labeling a virus based on its origin.
According to the CDC, “This virus was originally referred to as swine flu because laboratory testing showed that its gene segments were similar to influenza viruses that were most recently identified in and known to circulate among pigs.”
The name “swine flu” was accepted without objection in 2009 but today the name “Wuhan virus” or “Chinese coronavirus” is deemed racist. The only difference between the two virus names is who occupies the White House.
What about a comparison of the number of cases and deaths between the two viral pandemics? With all the hysteria over coronavirus compared to swine flu, the current outbreak must be far worse, right?
As of this writing, there are 63 deaths in the U.S. due to coronavirus, 40 of which are in Washington State. The vast majority of the Washington deaths involved patients at a skilled nursing facility in Kirkland, elderly and with underlying medical problems.
Overall, the coronavirus is quite selective as to whom it kills. From the New York Times: “Among the people in the United States who have died from coronavirus, almost all have been in their 70s, 80s or 90s. The youngest known fatality was a man in his 40s.” Unlike other viral epidemics, coronavirus is not killing the young and healthy.
For comparison, let’s look at the H1N1, or swine flu, pandemic of 2009. It was first detected in April 2009, “primarily affecting children and adults under 65.” It had a much different appetite compared to Coronavirus, in fact almost the opposite patient demographic.
Reported deaths had occurred in people ranging in age from 22 months old to 57 years old. Also, only 13% of hospitalizations had occurred in people 50 years and older, and there were few cases and no deaths in people older than 65 years, which was unusual when compared with seasonal flu.
Not to be crass, but those dying of coronavirus could just have easily died of the seasonal flu, pneumonia, or any of their underlying illnesses, and would have as some point, unlike swine flu where the young and healthy were dying.
The World Health Organization declared swine flu a pandemic in June 2009. President Obama didn’t declare it a national emergency for four months, until October 2009. House Democrats introduced ObamaCare in July 2009, in the midst of this pandemic. The last thing they wanted was any distraction, shifting focus to the healthcare system they were trying to take over.
In contrast, the WHO declared coronavirus a pandemic on March 11. Two days later on March 13, President Trump declared it a national emergency. Two days versus four months. Yet if you watch cable news, it’s Trump who doesn’t know what he is doing and is dropping the ball. What a difference a president makes.
Given the mass hysteria, supply hoarding, event cancellations and abject panic in America over the coronavirus, the numbers must be far worse now compared to the swine flu pandemic a decade ago. Let’s see if that’s true.
Swine flu caused 60.8 million illnesses, 273,304 hospitalizations, and 12,469 deaths in the U.S.
Worldwide, swine flu may have killed up to 203,000 people, more than the number thus far infected with Coronavirus, and the vast majority of those infected recovering uneventfully.
Why wasn’t virtually every major sporting event in 2009 cancelled given these numbers? Especially with swine flu preferentially affecting the young?
Granted the coronavirus hasn’t run its course and the numbers will likely increase, but look at the comparison of numbers and reaction now versus then.
In the U.S., 63 deaths now versus 12,000 then. 3,621 cases now versus 60 million then. Yet I don’t remember the hair-on-fire media reaction now versus then. What a difference a president makes.
How did the media react in 2009? The NY Times praised Obama’s leadership. From a May 1, 2009 article,
A week after his administration first received word about a deadly flu spreading across Mexico, President Obama convened his cabinet on Friday and instructed every agency to play a role in preparing the United States for a pandemic.
The president’s comments came at the end of a weeklong balancing act in which his public words and actions were carefully measured to summon a sense of urgency without setting off a panic. It was no coincidence, his aides said, that he played golf the day his administration declared a national emergency.
Imagine if Trump played golf last week. I’m sure the media would just mention it in passing as an example of President Trump trying to avoid setting off a panic.
Otherwise the two presidents did much the same, convening their cabinets, creating a game plan, and insisting on interagency cooperation. Was media reaction the same? Hardly.
Good luck finding a description of Trump’s response to coronavirus from any newspaper or cable news show comparable to how they reported on Obama as he faced the swine flu pandemic. What a difference a president makes.
Swine flu came and went, leaving a far greater swath of destruction compared to the current coronavirus outbreak. The economic and societal disruption from the reaction to coronavirus is likely to be far worse to whatever damage the virus does. Yet the reactions are far different, flames of panic stoked by the media. Most don’t remember the swine flu pandemic but will certainly remember the current chaos.
What’s the difference? The occupant of the White House and an upcoming election. And ponder this timing. The WHO declared coronavirus a global health emergency within a week of President Trump’s impeachment acquittal in the Senate. Do you believe in coincidences?