Covid-19: The Good News That Gets Lost in the Bad-News Headlines

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Nearly every news report reminds us of the bad news about Covid-19. Many news reports get their data from Johns Hopkins University Corona Virus Resource Center that displays a world map with red dots of Covid-19 cases expanding and spreading throughout the world. As of April 29, 2020, there were 3,141,981 confirmed cases world-wide and 1,014,568 in the U.S. Total deaths due to Covid-19 world-wide were 218,564 with 58,471 in the U.S. 

Here are a few scary headlines from the authoritative Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP):

  • US food processing plants become COVID-19 hot spots.
  • Study: Many asymptomatic COVID-19 cases undetected.
  • Trump adds confusion on COVID-19 treatments as US deaths top 50,000.

So, what’s the good news? First, we have to recognize that all humans have a negativity bias. It helped us survive throughout evolutionary history by focusing our attention on every potential danger that might kill us. Psychologist Rick Hanson, Ph.D. summarizes this inherent brain bias saying, “The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positives ones.”   

Psychologists John Tierney, Ph.D. and Roy F. Baumeister, Ph.D., describe the impacts of our negative perceptions on our relationships. In their book The Power of Bad: How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It, they tell us,

“The negativity effect destroys reputations and bankrupts companies. It promotes tribalism and xenophobia. It spreads bogus scares that have left Americans angrier and Zambians hungrier. It ignites moral panics among both liberals and conservatives. It poisons politics and elects demagogues.”

So, the first step in seeing the good news is to recognize that all our brains are looking at the world through a negativity filter that colors everything we see. Second, we have to recognize that what we are getting from mainstream media and politics plays on our negativity, fears, and biases. Third, we need to recognize that fear sells. And in a culture that is focused on increasing wealth for the top 1%, we can be sure that even something as serious as a world-wide pandemic will bring out the merchants of commerce who will play on our fears to sell ad space, miracle cures, a plethora of virus test kits, unproven drugs, masks of every description, cleaning products, and toilet paper.

Here’s Some Good News You May Have Missed

On the Johns Hopkins page that reports the increasing numbers of cases and deaths in large type, they also report the number of people who recover, but in small type that makes it harder to find. The day they reported 3,000,000 cases of Covid-19, they also reported nearly 948,545 people recovered. 

I had to look hard to find this headline in a reputable publication WebMD, “The Other Side of Covid-19: Milder Cases, Healthy Recovery.” “About 80% of people get a very mild illness and they recover uneventfully. That’s important to realize,” said Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency medicine physician with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. The article goes on to say, “Another 15% of people infected with coronavirus have more serious symptoms, and 5% develop life-threatening illness, experts say.”

In addition to negative headlines about death and disability, it would be nice to see a headline like this: 95% of Those Infected With Covid-19 Do Not Develop Life-Threatening Illness.” 

Columnist Tom Friedman offers more good news when he tells us to stop using war analogies to describe our response to Covid-19,

“When you’re in a struggle with one of Mother Nature’s challenges — like a virus or a climate change — the goal is not to defeat her. No one can. She’s just chemistry, biology and physics. The goal is to adapt.”

David L. Katz, M.D. is an impressive researcher and clinician. He is a board-certified specialist in Preventive Medicine & Public Health, the founder and former director of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, Past-President of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, and Founder/President of the True Health Initiative. He also offers a realistic, scientifically-based, yet positive, response to the Covid-19 crisis.

In a recent New York Times article with columnist Tom Friedman, Dr. Katz says,

“More and more data are telling us that Covid-19 is two completely different diseases in different populations. It is severe and potentially lethal to the old, the chronically ill and those with pre-existing conditions. It is, however, rarely life-threatening, often mild — and often even asymptomatic — among those under 50 or 60 in generally good health.”  

Dr. Katz’ findings may be the most important good news we need to hear. If you are under fifty and in generally good health, you may well be exposed to the Covid-19 virus, but your chances of dying, or becoming serious ill, are very small. (One report from Germany equated the risk of dying from Covid-19 with the risk of dying from driving…about 9 miles!)

It’s also good to remind people like me (I’m 76, have life-long asthma, and chronic breathing problems) who are over 50 and/or have chronic health problems—including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)–that we are facing a significant risk of getting sick and even dying from Covid-19. We need to take steps to better our health, improve our immune function, and protect ourselves from becoming infected. 

And there’s more good news. On an April 24, 2020 episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, viewed by more than one million on YouTube,  Dr. Katz describes an effective way of protecting the most vulnerable among us and getting the least vulnerable back to work and our economy back on its feet. 

On April 27, 2020, I heard some more good news on CBS 60-Minutes. I learned about BlueDot, a small Canadian company with an algorithm that scours the world for outbreaks of infectious disease. It’s a digital early warning system, and it was among the first to raise alarms about this lethal outbreak. On New Year’s Eve, BlueDot was among the first to raise the alarm about an infectious disease outbreak in Wuhan, China. While Chinese officials were still being secretive about the outbreak, the BlueDot’s computers were tracking 800,000 travelers leaving Wuhan, some likely carrying the disease, and seeing where they were landing. 

BlueDot’s founder and CEO, Dr. Kamran Khan, showed flight paths with yellow lines reflecting the nonstop flights leaving Wuhan, shortly after the outbreak of the virus, and blue circles that show the final destinations of travelers. “Most of the travelers coming to the U.S. flew into San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City,” Dr. Khan explained, “And we analyzed that way back on December 31st.”

California’s Governor Gavin Newsom credits the information he got from BlueDot in helping his state react quickly and effectively. “We are literally seeing into the future,” Newsom said, “and predicting in real-time based on constant update of information where patterns are starting to occur before they become headlines.” And that’s really good news.

More good news comes from the response of America’s auto industry. In 60-Minute program on April 27, 2020, they reported that in the past week another 4.4 million Americans joined the unemployment line, and among the companies shedding the most workers are America’s carmakers. The “big two” – General Motors and Ford – built nearly 4 million vehicles here in America last year, today they are making exactly zero; their factories closed to prevent the coronavirus from spreading among employees. 

But they didn’t sit idle waiting for things to return to normal. As Ford and GM shut down auto production in March, Michigan emerged as a major COVID-19 hot spot. The state has the third largest number of deaths in the nation, and its health care workers have endured shortages of protective gear. The state’s largest health system, Beaumont, says that 1,500 of its employees are presumed to have COVID-19.

In what may be the quickest retooling in history, GM and Ford went from making cars that increase pollution to manufacturing ventilators and personal protective equipment to save lives from the ravages of Covid-19. that began Ford’s transformation from carmaker to medical supply manufacturer. Chairman, Bill Ford, says, “The company has since churned out millions of face shields, masks, gowns, and portable respirators for health care workers.”

As the pandemic spread, GM’s CEO, Mary Barra, learned about a small innovative ventilator manufacturer in Washington state called Ventec. She sent a team, headed by Phil Kienle, GM’s vice president of North American manufacturing, to see how GM might help get more ventilators to those who desperately needed them. 

On route to Seattle, Kienle challenged his team. “If your parents, your wife, one of your children had this COVID disease, and absolutely needed one of these ventilators? How far would you go to get this thing into production? How fast would you move?” It turned out they moved very fast. 

“We went from discussion to production in less than three weeks,” says Kienle

“At first, GM and Ventec were operating on their own. In late March, President Trump ordered them to make ventilators under the Defense Production Act. Twelve days later they signed a half-billion-dollar contract to make 30,000 for the federal government by August.”

GM says it’s not making any profit on the ventilators, but the project is teaching the company valuable lessons to help get its car factories open faster. 

Maybe the best news of all is to see big business and government coming together to put the lives of average Americans ahead of the demand to make profits. May we remember the lessons of the good news as we restart our economy.

I look forward to your comments. To read more articles, please visit my blog.

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