One of the best things we all can do for our mental health is to simply stop watching and listening to media that are constantly bombarding us with threats and warnings about what must surely be the cause of our imminent death–COVID-19. I have recommended this strategy to several of my patients, who have seen a concomitant increase in their positive outlooks on life.
As a former member of the media, I can assure you that while you may think the mission of our media is to disseminate true and verified information, that is sadly no longer true. The mission of the media, as with any other category of companies, is to make money. Shocking, I know, but their strategy is to generate sensational stories that will draw you in and keep you enraptured, especially as they pause for the commercial messages that pay their bills. Thus, sensational headlines and sound bites that herald cataclysmic events such as the second coming of the Black Plague are a great inducement to keep watching, listening, and reading. There are certainly political influences that are in play with the media’s treatment of COVID-19, but this column is not the place to discuss those factors.
Instead, let’s discuss how we are being manipulated by said media in service of their monetary ends. One way they accomplish this is to publish incendiary messages, such as the fact that we are reaching new record highs in COVID-19 cases. That certainly sounds frightening, and while the message is true, it is easily explained by the fact that we are also reaching new record highs in COVID-19 testing. More tests=more results=more cases. Somehow, our media reports tend to downplay or even fail to mention this reality.
Another set of facts that goes unnoticed by the media is that while the number of cases is “spiking” (note the incendiary term), the numbers of deaths and hospitalizations is not spiking. The reason for this is very clear. As noted recently by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the virus has spread to younger populations as the state has opened up, but nowhere do we see that hospitals are jammed with COVID-19 cases, or that mortuaries are overwhelmed with dead bodies courtesy of COVID-19.
The Explore Health website cites a viewpoint article published February 24 in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), where authors reviewed case records of 72,314 patients, 44,672 of which were confirmed as having COVID-19. Of those confirmed cases, 36,160 cases, or 81%, showed only mild symptoms, while 14% were severe and 5% critical. The overall case-fatality rate, or coronavirus cases that ended in death versus the total number of people with confirmed cases of infection, was only 2.3%, or 1,023 deaths.
Nevertheless, we have the unstated, but very clear message that if you get this virus, you are going to get very sick and die. Another fascinating website, chanceofsurvival.com, actually lets individuals enter their age and some important medical data (cancer, hypertension, chronic respiratory disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and smoking) to calculate the odds of their surviving the Coronavirus pandemic. If you’re a “high risk” male between ages 70 and 79, your chances of survival (no underlying conditions) are 94%. If you are between the ages of 50 and 59, the number jumps to 99 percent.
Even in higher risk cases, such as an 80-year-old male with cancer who is also a smoker, the survival estimate is nearly 80 percent! (79.45). A female in her 70’s with diabetes and heart disease stands a 71.63% chance of surviving. This is not to say that high risk individuals should not take measures to avoid exposure, but it is to say that for the great majority of us, coronavirus is not the end of the world.
Finally, the lockdown of our population, which we now know was not necessary, except for the most high-risk individuals, has had a decidedly depressing effect on most of us, taking away our fundamental needs for touch and social interaction. This, in turn, makes us much more likely to panic at the headlines with which the media assaults us. The good news is you as an individual can decide how you will react to such messages. Perhaps, instead of losing it, you will decide to take a logical approach and to limit your concerns to reflect a proper level of vulnerability.