In the wake of Ebola, NVD-68, and Zika, we should have all learned our lesson by now. We haven’t. This is 2020—Iowans took a week to count the votes of 5% of their population, and an elderly white Northeastern president is principally opposed by a gaggle of downright ancient white Northeasterners. There aren’t any quick fixes for emergent idiocies like those, but a few simple heuristics will go a long way toward avoiding panic over coronavirus.
To greatly condense something I wrote a while back, it’s not like the movies. Obliteration, as it turns out, is not to be expected, and isolation is strikingly maladaptive.
This epidemic is massively multifactorial and substantially driven by local Chinese conditions, including population density a full order of magnitude higher than that of the US; far poorer sanitation; a massive travel season of (ordinarily) 15 days, like Thanksgiving Day weekend multiplied by 4; a possible genetic susceptibility in the form of more RNA receptors in the lungs of Chinese males; and scary-looking hospitals. The global pandemic risk, if any, is to other countries with similar elements. The US is about as dissimilar as it is possible to be.
Ignore specific news stories. The news media are riddled with structural biases, the most relevant of which are temporal bias, bad news bias, and narrative bias. In any case, most journalists (and their editors) are effectively innumerate.
Instead, track airline and travel stocks, and compare the broader Chinese and US indexes.
Jay’s Stuff-Hits-The-Fan Index is comprised of AAL, DAL, LUV, UAL, BKNG/10, EXPE, and TRIP, as measured at market close each Friday afternoon in the US. It nosedived in early November, partially recovered, dropped again (but not as steeply) in late January, and is now recovering again.
The Wilshire 5000 has gained nearly 20% relative to the SSE Composite since early October.
From these comparisons, it is easy to see that China will be hit much harder than the US, to the extent that the US is affected at all.
Your concern should be over anyone you know in China, especially in Hubei but also elsewhere, if only for the economic impact to their livelihoods. In that connection, this interview of Francis Collins by Andy Serwer is worth reading—or even watching in full to grasp just how effective a communicator Collins is.
More broadly, we should all give some thought to what happens if this stresses the regime sufficiently to plunge China into a crisis comparable to the huge rebellions of the mid-19th century or the warlords and Japanese invasion of the early-to-mid-20th. Adherents to Strauss-Howe generational theory, myself among them, are wondering if the Chinese aren’t just about due.
But remember, anyone trying to badly frighten you over what might happen in the US from 2019-nCov does not have your best interests at heart. Treat them the way you would someone who is, say, attempting a carjacking. —Although, to be sure, most of them will be the sort of carjacker who turns out to be unable to drive a stick-shift.