It’s hit the news media like a ton of bricks. All coronavirus, all the time. We are left to wonder whether bubonic plague and smallpox are staging a comeback.

Virtually everything has come to a halt while panic has set in at the grocery stores as some people buy up enough toilet paper to insulate their homes.

The great COVID-19 panic calls to mind cartoonist Al Capp’s comic strip character Fearless Fosdick, who went around shooting people to keep them from catching a deadly malady.

It was ever thus. During my boyhood polio was the scourge, crippling and killing thousands. For years people feared “the bomb” and built fallout shelters. As a college freshman it was the Asian flu. Then came the energy crisis. By the turn of the century everyone feared computers couldn’t handle Y2K and would create chaos.

Then came anthrax, HIV, West Nile, SARS, MERS, bird flu, E. coli, mad cow disease, the 2008 financial collapse and swine flu. The Mayan calendar supposedly predicted the world’s end in 2012. Then we had North Korea’s bellicosity. Then Ebola, ISIS and the Zika virus.

Now we have the new coronavirus, which dominates the news with every case diagnosed. As of last week there have been over 250,000 cases worldwide including more than 10,000 deaths. Nearly half have recovered.

By contrast the annual flu outbreaks are all but ignored. During the current flu season we’ve had about 36 million cases in the United States alone with 370,000 hospitalized and at least 22,000 deaths. And that’s with the availability of flu vaccines.

COVID-19, however, is new. That makes it an attention-getter since no effective vaccine has yet been developed and people have no natural immunity against something to which they haven’t been exposed. This despite the fact the majority of those worldwide who have come down with the malady recover from it with no particular ill effects beyond a few days of feeling puny and having some difficulty breathing. According to reports, about half of those worldwide who contracted it have returned to normal.

As is true of most communicable diseases, older people and those with high-risk health conditions are more apt to suffer complications or death. Of course such things as the flu or pneumonia can be just as risky.

It’s out of my control. But my age aside, the phobia du jour doesn’t scare me that much. I’m willing to divert my attention with concerts, church, eating out, movies or ball games – oh wait, there aren’t any. I get regular flu shots (my wife avoids them). Anyhow, if a coronavirus doesn’t get me something else will within the next decade or two.

Politicians and pundits, of course, will continue to have their say. Franklin D. Roosevelt used to say, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Ironic that his party has been castigating the opposition for much those same sentiments.

Jim Bailey’s column appears on Thursday. He can be reached by email at

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