Commentary: Conservatives shouldn’t downplay the Wuhan virus

Downplaying the virus, and missing the big picture about the menace of China’s government, doesn’t help anybody.


There’s a growing trend of conservatives arguing that the coronavirus (COVID-19) isn’t that bad, and we shouldn’t be shutting the economy down. Take former United Health Group general counsel, Kevin Roche. 

In a post on the blog Powerline, Roche writes that “The average person has basically a zero chance of having a serious illness from the virus, even if they were in heavy contact with it.” Because of this, “the threat is actually low, consistent with a serious flu year.” 

To come to this conclusion, Roche cites the example of the Diamond Princess cruise ship that experienced an outbreak as this whole thing was getting started: “There were over 3,700 passengers and crew on the vessel. Every one of them undoubtedly had constant, heavy exposure to the virus in close quarters. Using gold standard testing, less than 20% of the 3,711 people were positive, meaning they were actually infected.  And out of those positive tests, a little over half were actually symptomatic. 8 people died, or about 2% of those with symptoms or .2% of percent of the vessel population.”

Roche has tried to put this in the Star Tribune but they won’t let him. But there’s a reason for that. 

The death rate is likely 5 to 10 times worse than the flu

Take the Diamond Princess example. Of the 3,700 aboard, around 700 were infected. Out of the 700 infected, 400 were asymptomatic, and 8 died, while around 300 experienced symptoms, often severe. 8 dying out of 700 equals ~1%. And while the population on the cruise ship was relatively older, they were also relatively healthier and received medical attention that many will not.

In other words, Roche’s math is completely wrong. The real question isn’t how many people died out of a cruise ship that went on lockdown before the disease could spread to everyone on board. The real question is: out of those who were infected, how many experienced severe symptoms and what was the death rate?

The answer on the death rate is about 1%, and looking at the broader population as low as 0.5%. But that’s still (ballparking a bit here) 5-10 times worse than the seasonal flu. That’s not the bubonic plague, but it’s still 5-10 times worse than the flu. For those who experience severe symptoms, they often include severe fever, headache, and breathing problems. In severe cases the virus often hits a person with a fever, then comes back, several days after they recover from the initial fever, worse than before. While it’s true that being older greatly increases the risk of death from COVID-19, young and healthy can still experience these severe symptoms.

Other odd symptoms abound. Many people lose their sense of taste and smell right before they get sick. While sick, many have severe joint and nerve pain much unlike the normal aches and pains of the flu. There’s also concerns the virus can have long-term effects, including on a person’s fertility and lung capacity.

Roche saying that “The average person has basically a zero chance of having a serious illness from the virus, even if they were in heavy contact with it,” and that “the threat is actually low, consistent with a serious flu year” is completely untrue.

The real story—the China menace

The real story is that this virus may have escaped a Chinese lab by accident—where Chinese scientists were sloppily messing around with things they shouldn’t have been messing around with. Either way, once the virus started spreading late last year, corrupt Chinese officials persecuted the medical professionals there who spoke out about it. China, after suppressing information about the outbreak and blatantly lying to the world, went on to blame a seafood market, the pangolin, and then the U.S. military.

China’s behavior and lies wasted the little time we had to react to the virus. We closed our borders to China, but we didn’t close them to Europe until it was too late. China spread the virus to Europe, and Europeans spread the virus to the U.S. 

Instead of directing our anger at the shutdowns, or even Governor Walz, we should direct our anger at politicians—both Democrats and Republicans—who allowed China to become the menace that it is, and happily allowed countless American jobs to be outsourced there. We don’t even make essential medical supplies in our own country anymore, including antibiotics. Incidentally, China has threatened to cut supplies of antibiotics to America unless we tone down the criticism.

Even our media is in the pocket of Communist China’s dictatorship it seems. For example, they’ve consistently repeated Chinese propaganda about how well China is handling the virus compared to America, even though there is much evidence to the contrary. In fact, it’s a flat out lie, and China will begin to fray because of this virus.

Finally, President Trump has been doing the right thing all along, which is showing up in his approval numbers that the media is trying hard to ignore. Yes, we need to eventually re-open (read my Federalist article about how we should go about this). And yes, the threat of the virus overwhelming the health system has possibly been overexaggerated. But downplaying the virus, and missing the big picture about the menace of China’s government, doesn’t help anybody.

Willis Krumholz
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Willis L. Krumholz is a fellow at Defense Priorities. He holds a JD and MBA degree from the University of St. Thomas, and works in the financial services industry. The views expressed are those of the author only. You can follow Willis on Twitter @WillKrumholz.