The coronavirus that can cause COVID-19 hits a terrible sweet spot. It kills some people. But most infected people don’t become very ill or die.
That makes COVID-19 less of a problem. It also makes it harder to convince the public COVID-19 is a problem, which can make it easier for the virus to spread and kill more people. That terrible sweet spot more or less guarantees new cases of COVID-19 as Oregon and the United States open up again.
The COVID-19 outbreak is similar to two other disease outbreaks caused by coronaviruses. What makes COVID-19 different is that although it has killed more people, it kills fewer of the people infected.
Remember SARS? SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, was identified in 2002 and moved to 26 countries. The virus that causes it may have spread from bats to civet cats before infecting people. No cases have been found since 2004. It did, though, kill 774 people. SARS had a fatality rate of about 10%.
MERS, or Middle East respiratory syndrome, is another disease that may have originated in bats. The virus that causes it may have spread from bats, moved to camels and then infected humans. The cases originated in Saudi Arabia. It was identified in 2012 and spread to 27 countries. There were two cases in the United States. Both U.S. patients survived after being hospitalized. MERS has killed more than 800 people. Overall, MERS has had a much higher fatality rate of about 34%.
COVID-19 is believed to have originated in bats, too. The disease emerged in China. Of the more than 1.3 million known cases of infection in the United States, there have been more than 70,000 deaths.
A fatality rate for COVID-19 has not been established. It’s not, though, as lethal as MERS or SARS. That lower fatality rate can help COVID-19 persist.
“It’s sort of the sweet spot for the virus of survival and durability,” said Deschutes County Health Services Director Dr. George Conway, during Wednesday’s Bend City Council meeting. Scientists are still uncertain if having COVID-19 confers any sort of personal immunity from getting it again. Sometimes, diseases don’t.
While we wait for a vaccine for COVID-19, Gov. Kate Brown is working on a plan to gradually reopen Oregon. The plan won’t be perfect. It will be revised, revamped and maybe, at times, reversed. But social distancing is not going away. Masks should be worn in public to keep others safe. Don’t let lockdown fatigue and the virus’s sweet spot gang up for a win.