Copyright © 2016 - 2020, The Troy Press
Copyright © 2016 - 2020, The Troy Press

Covid-19: Avoiding Panic is Vital

IMAGE: This is an illustration of the SARS-CoV-2 virus provided by the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Starting yesterday, all kinds of people around me have been in a panic. PANIC KILLS and could make our situation much worse. Predictably, panic came to another group email list I'm a member of and I responded, and several people reached out and said they thought my response was very helpful and they were forwarding it on. So I figured I should likewise do my best to help all the people I care about, not just the people on that email list, but people on this one, too.

Additionally, last week I was pushed to wear my Scientist hat and model the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the one responsible for the Covid-19 disease, and I did so. The results are useful, and I'll send them on in another email after this one. ... I do not intend to post anything further unless at some point there's something compellingly valuable to add, but on the other hand, if people want to talk about it here, I think we should say that's OK. This is, after all, the first time in any of our lives we're a part of a pandemic.

So, below is the email I'm forwarding about panic - keep in mind, please, the author below I speak of isn't on this list, it's just easier to send the below whole, as already written than try and edit it. To wit:


I'm writing about panic and how it harms us, makes things worse than they need to be, and I'm writing here on this list not only because it's helpful to everyone in this time, but importantly because we've already seen panic shared here. This is a somewhat long comment, but it's thoughtful and has some important lessons. I hope you'll all read it to the end.

In my youth I became a licensed private pilot (starting at 5, fully licensed by 13 years old), and mostly flew out of Lakefront Airport on Lake Pontchartrain. In my training one of the points that came up again and again was the importance of not panicking when things went wrong. Indeed, one day when I was working on my certification, I was flying back from Meridian, MS, when I decided to try using the radio navigation equipment - I didn't need it to get home, I just thought it would be a good thing to become familiar with. And as soon as I turned it on, the engine failed!

But, I didn't panic. Instead, I kept a calm head and followed my training. I kept the bird flying by setting up a nice glide and followed the check-list, including turning everything off, then restarting the engine. It restarted just fine, and I climbed back up to my original altitude. Everything seemed OK, so I tried the radio navigation aid again and off the engine went! Not to worry. I followed the procedure again, the engine started and this time I concluded there was something wrong with the navigation equipment and flew back without it. (Later we learned there had been wiring work done and the magnetos had been somehow improperly wired, losing their grounding when the switch for the navigation aid was thrown.)

But the experience served me well many times later in life - earthquakes, tornadoes, house fires, surprise wild-fires in Colorado and California, attack by a mugger, car accidents, stranded in the wilderness, among many other crisis situations. Many times I was with other people who panicked and were in the process of making things worse, like this one person who was about to pour water onto a pot of boiling oil that had become lit on its top surface (the water would create an explosion as the water turned to steam, atomizing the oil and the flame would ignite that atomized oil), as but one of many examples. ...These experiences were observed by friends and colleagues, many of whom had been in panic themselves, and I was lauded many times for keeping a calm head and having saved the day through clear thinking and refusing to panic. As I thought my actions were "just natural", I was curious and interviewed these friends and asked them to share their perceptions in more detail.

From this I have learned a lot more about panic. It can be spread, like a contagion of its own, but then, so can calm resolve to take thoughtful action (and that's what I hope my words here today will do). While it's important to understand threats and risks, and it's important to project other potential outcomes of various scenarios to understand what's possible, it's also vital to not create bad scenarios by over-reacting, over-thinking, and over-projecting.

With these lessons in mind I want to address comments like one we saw on this list yesterday which I think is panic-filled and is sure to incite panic in others. And I believe it's dangerous, not just to the author but to the rest of us as well. Due to limitations of this medium, I'll take it a line or two at a time:

"We must consider that we are about enter a new reality."

From my own perspective, every new second is a new reality and this is nothing new and no big deal, but what's also true about that sentence is that its author believes whatever it is they are thinking about is concretely certain. There are no mitigating words like "might be", "looks like" etc, and so this is the entrance to panic, whether the author themselves are in a panic or not; if the "new reality" portrayed isn't roses and honey, this is what incites panic in others. It's the rough equivalent of someone screaming "OH MY GOD WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!" And then, you knew it, something like that was the next line:

"We are going to experience a global market failure."

Here's the big bogey man they're afraid of and are panicked about and, again, its written as a complete certainty. And it's written in a way that's sure to incite panic in others.

Well, I've got news for the author of that: it will only be true if panic takes hold. There are absolutely NO REASONS why that should be an outcome of concern. It's not as if the means of production, world wide, have suddenly burned to the ground, fallen into the ocean, been consumed by a volcano or met any other malady. Further, the SARS-CoV-2 virus doesn't strike people in the prime of their lives very hard, not worse than the "common cold", so, again, there's ZERO risk we won't have truck drivers - they're not going to be dying by the millions. And neither are the billions of other middle-aged and younger who drive the global economy through their labor. THERE'S ABSOLUTELY NO REASON to be worried as articulated. ... Notice, I didn't say no reason to be worried, I said NO REASON TO BE WORRIED AS ARTICULATED BY THE VOICE OF PANIC.

The big threat here is that humanity might lose 2% or so of its population, and maybe 18% or so of its oldest members - tragic to be sure, but nothing truly world-crushing for the whole globe's economy. That is, so long as we don't panic and make it come true via the dangers of the self-fulfilling prophecy.

...I don't think I need to pick apart the rest of the email, but this one line was really over-the-top:

"It will take years to rebuild."

Sorry, that's an irresponsible statement! Again, it's articulated as if it's a foregone conclusion, fact cemented in stone. And, it's likely completely wrong. ...The only way it becomes true is via the self-fulfilling prophecy of panic, but that's what panic does to people; the one who screams "WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE" is probably the one who makes that outcome happen when it does happen.

PANIC KILLS, people; don't let panic over this virus make the problem worse. Don't Spread Pa nick!

Keep to actual facts. And if you have concerns, avoid expressing them as if the absolute disaster you're afraid of is unavoidable - it probably isn't.

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