JACKSON — Now that Americans are sufficiently scared by COVID-19 to start washing their hands, it’s time to start thinking about the economic damage caused by social distancing.

The Law of Unintended Consequences reigns supreme among human attempts to control our fate. We need to pay attention to how many deaths will be caused by economic collapse. It will make COVID-19 look like a cakewalk.

Don’t get me wrong. I am washing my hands. I am paying attention to public door knobs. I am being careful. This is easy for me. I am cautious by nature. But we cannot shut down a third of the economy for more than a month without suffering consequences far more dire than the latest viral scare. Restaurants and stores must reopen. Churches (especially churches!) must hold services. Life must get back to normal, virus or not.

The human stress caused by financial hardship, unemployment and economic collapse will cause far more deaths than COVID-19.

Fortunately, if you carefully study the COVID-19 graphs of China, South Korea and Italy, it looks like we can get this done with about a month of social distancing.

For those interested, I recommend a website called worldometer.com. Yet another example of the power of the Internet.

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We are right in the middle of the worst of it. We’ve got a couple more weeks to go, then deaths will level out and start dropping. It happened in China. It happened in South Korea. It’s happening in Italy.

This should not surprise epidemiologists who all know Farr’s Law. Farr’s Law says there is a standard bell curve that predicts epidemic mortality. So far, China and South Korea fit Farr’s Law like a glove.

Look for deaths to begin stabilizing the first week of April.

I wouldn’t focus on the number of cases. The more we test, the more cases we are going to find. It’s the deaths that matter.

By the way, it is the job of epidemiologist to scare the bejabbers out of us. They want containment. But we must also listen to the economists. Life must go on. The economy cannot grind to a halt. Nobody worries about viruses when they are starving.

One very bright spot is the promise of the old malaria treatment, hydroxychloroquine. Famed French virologist Didier Raoult described its result as “sensational,” curing all the patients in six days who combined the drug with an azithromycin Z-Pack.

Now the Internet is starting to log anecdotal hydroxychloroquine miracle cures. Because this drug has been around for decades, it can be prescribed right away. This is really, really good news.

In petri dishes, hydroxychloroquine (known as Plaquenil) killed the coronavirus perfectly. These tests were done back in 2005 after the SARS coronavirus first appeared in 2003. It’s important to remember that the SARS coronavirus has been around a long time and we know quite a bit about it. The 2003 SARS epidemic was quickly contained. Funding dried up and research ended. But enough research was done to give scientists a good head start, and it’s one reason we are already seeing potential treatments.

Another antiviral, Remdisivir, also got its start during the first SARS scare 17 years ago. It’s showing promise as well as many others.

Farr’s Law indicates we get a lot of deaths right away, then the deaths stabilize and drop off. Why is this?

For one thing, people start being more cautious: washing their hands, avoiding sick people, etc. In addition, the most vulnerable people fall quickly to a new virus while the rest develop immunity. Finally, deadly viruses mutate to become less deadly. Viruses want to replicate, not to kill their host.

Let’s remember that we have a huge weapon in this battle: our God-given immune system. This war has been going on since the dawn of humanity. This is just one more battle. At 7.5 billion humans worldwide, I think we’ve been pretty good at surviving. We’re not driving. God is.

It’s also useful to put COVID-19 into statistical perspective. For instance, only one out of 333,000 people worldwide have died from COVID-19. That may be a source of concern, but not panic.

COVID-19 has killed about 1,200 Americans. That’s one in 350,000. In comparison, 35,000 Americans die in car wrecks in a year. Driving is a risk that’s 30 times greater so far than COVID-19. Yet, we’re all still driving. And many of us speed!

If you want to worry about infectious diseases, there’s no reason to fixate on COVID-19. About 200,000 Americans died each year from infectious diseases and another 270,000 from sepsis, not to mention another 35,000 deaths a year from antibiotic resistant bacterial infections. You are 500 times more likely to die from these things than COVID-19. So, why are we just now so scared?

The flu kills about 27,000 Americans a year, and half of us don’t even bother to get a flu shot. Tuberculosis kills 1.6 million people a year worldwide. That’s 4,000 people a day!

At press time, Mississippi had six COVID-19 deaths. Meanwhile, about 1,600 Mississippians will die this month from lower respiratory diseases caused by flus, pneumonia, rhinovirus colds and, yes, four widespread coronaviruses that have been around for decades — HKU1, 229E, OC43 and NL63. None of this is meant to discourage people from being careful, especially during this brief period of social distancing. But, we must all prepare to get over our panic attack and get back to normal life in a few weeks. The future of our world depends on it.

Society didn’t grind to a halt during the polio epidemics, or diphtheria, or smallpox, or yellow fever, or malaria, tuberculosis or even the Spanish flu. The only thing that has changed is the Internet and its instant flood of unending information scaring the bejabbers out of everybody. We are experiencing a global panic attack.

News flash: Everybody living is going to die. There is no life without death. You cannot live if you are huddled in fear of death. Old people, myself included, are more vulnerable to death, especially if they are already ill. That’s the way it is.

We need to start mentally preparing ourselves to get back to our normal lives in a few weeks. Keep calm and carry on.

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