By Zack Dumont

Though tragic at the time, and still today, past outbreaks — such as SARS in 2003 — have taught the global healthcare community much about handling epidemics. Because of those outbreaks there exist sophisticated systems to detect, trace, contain, and stop the spread of epidemics. Thankfully, we’re seeing those systems in action right now with the novel (“new”) coronavirus, originally emerging from Wuhan province in China.

Unfortunately, we’re also witnessing some of the media playing into (and heightening) hysteria. Yes, there have been a number of deaths as a result of the coronavirus; yes, there are people who are quarantined; yes, the victims and others are impacted. But the media should not share these details without the required context to truly understand the situation. There are deadlier viruses around us all the time, and the quarantining is simply a necessary precaution for the vast, vast majority of those affected. Though most media outlets are working to inform, the sheer mass of them and their long reach may make it seem far worse than it is.

Worse than the worst of the media, however, are the con artists who are springing into action. They deserve no more airtime or attention, so to put it simply: It’s all bull$#%t. Even most natural and complementary health information source s are cautioning against anything other than hygiene-related measures : wash your hands, avoid touching your face, etc. There are dozens of studies currently underway which will test other treatments , such as HIV and malaria medications, but to my knowledge and understanding, there isn’t any tea or tincture or troche that will see the light of day as a legitimately effective strategy .

A few actually helpful or interesting tidbits:

  • The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) was actually born from the 2003 SARS outbreak and is evidence that we’re better equipped today than during past outbreaks.
  • The virus is now being coined COVID-19 (short for “coronavirus 2019,” which is when cases first started presenting).
  • At the time of writing this article, the spread in China is slowing.
  • For the best and most relevant source of facts on COVID-19, look no further than PHAC and Health Canada’s easy-to-find website — canada.ca/coronavirus — which collects information from the World Health Organization, the Centres for Disease Control, and others; includes useful Canadian context; and is updated daily.

UPDATE 2020-02-28: What a difference a week makes. When initially drafting the article above I attempted to write it from a balanced, if not neutral, perspective — as if to give readers a reason to think “Stay calm, and everything will be alright.” It was perhaps a noble effort, but alas, futile. My failure is not the result of the virus changing and becoming more deadly; nor has Canada suddenly become intensely threatened, while the virus continues to spread.

Rather, my article downplayed how many people are impacted, not by the virus itself, but by its “side effects” — e.g., further travel restrictions, additional quarantines increasing the likelihood you or someone you know is in isolation, and crashing financial markets. My sincere apologies if I came across as insensitive. Nevertheless, I must forge ahead with my mission to keep you up to date with information shaped by science, reason, and critical thinking.

Objectively, and without casting blame, the following is probably true today, tomorrow, and next week (though, there’s no way to truly know):

  • The media is sensationalizing. It’s kind of their job, and they’re very good at it. Little to nothing can slow them down. Staying silent, when their competition won’t back down, is not a viable option. The problem really is the sheer number of media outlets and how that creates an unrelenting tsunami of COVID-19 news coming your way.
  • Everyone, even non-media sources, feels compelled to speak to it — yes, even CFIC. This adds to the non-stop reminders you’re getting.
  • The number of cases outside of China is increasing.
  • The mortality rates reported thus far are likely an underestimate due to under-reporting of mild cases initially in China.
  • We know more about the virus today and have more possible solutions with each passing moment.
  • Your best bet is to ignore the lay press, and continue to flock to trusted sources like those noted above and below (e.g., canada.ca/coronavirus). Further, we aim to be a trusted source for you, have far less “skin in the game” to mislead, and we’re honest about our limitations — thus, our redirection to the experts in the area, whom Health Canada and PHAC are 100% integrated with.
  • Unless you’re really keen to stay on top of the ancillary effects of the virus, and probably only if you’re willing to stay constantly on your toes to filter the signal from the noise, I suggest the mainstream news will only lead to burnout. Don’t do it: Save your energy and strength.

This article appears in the March 2020 version of Critical Links.