Billionaire and the man behind SpaceX and Tesla, Elon Musk, has really stirred the hornets’ nest this time around. In a letter to SpaceX employees, Musk has reportedly downplayed the Coronavirus, or COVID-19 threat. He says people, such as you and I, are at a greater risk of dying in a car crash than from Coronavirus. This comes as the global reported Coronavirus cases have now clocked the 1,69,387 mark. Remember, these are official figures reported by the WHO, CDC, ECDC and governments around the world—the COVID-19 infection has now been clocked in 110 countries. The World Health Organization wouldn’t classify something as a pandemic lightly. Not everyone has been tested yet, and in reality, the number of infected cases could be much higher. Musk may have a statistical point, at least valid thus far, but for the rest of his letter, he doesn’t seem to make much sense. In fact, it all sounds very irresponsible.
“As a basis for comparison, the risk of death from C19 is *vastly* less than the risk of death from driving your car home. There are about 36 thousand automotive deaths per deaths [sic], as compared to 36 so far this year for C19,” Musk has said in the letter to SpaceX employees as seen by Buzzfeed News. Yes, he might be right to an extent. Perhaps Musk is of the opinion that Coronavirus isn’t that big a deal as we speak, because the death toll still remains low. Granted, purely from a statistical standpoint. So far. In the past 24 hours and a bit more, Italy has clocked 368 deaths, its single day record thus far. It was a similar unfortunate achievement for Spain, France and the UK, which clocked maximum deaths in a day so far. This letter isn’t the first time Musk has taken the Coronavirus threat lightly. On March 7, he had tweeted, “The coronavirus panic is dumb”.
People who know more about the Coronavirus are almost unanimous in the opinion that the risk of passing on Coronavirus is big worry for the medical community. And particularly when the possibility of infecting the elderly, who are at a much greater risk. Let us take this tweet by Harvard scientist Eric Feigl-Ding in which he writes, “Korea’s pop wide #COVID19 tests have revealed something scary: YOUNG PEOPLE are leading carriers. (Italy only tests the rather sick, biases to old people). If the socially active age20-29 truly carry 30% of all cases— that means trouble!” And then he adds, “So next time someone says “Oh don’t worry, it’s mild for young people” — explain that complacency and ignorance of this virus’s true infectious reservoir of mild carriers — will actually spur on the outbreak more. #COVID19 has an epidemic doubling time of ~6 days. Do the math.”
That is exactly why there is a concerted effort to raise awareness about social distancing to reduce the scenario of community spread. This is to go with the preventive measures that include generous use of hand soap and sanitizers on person and on surfaces around you. There is no vaccine yet for the Coronavirus and no treatment as well—except that doctors will treat the accompanying symptoms and the human body’s immune system has to do all the fighting with the COVID-19.
"Public health measures can slow the transmission and spread of infectious diseases. These measures can take the form of personal protective, environmental, social distancing, and travel related interventions. Currently, there are no vaccines or specific pharmaceutical treatments available for COVID-19," says the WHO in the latest guidance for responding to the community spread of Coronavirus.
While Musk can perhaps keep his SpaceX employees’ morale up by telling them to fear car accidents more, Helen Branswell of STAT News has some very helpful advice for everyone. She tweets, “If you have elderly people in your family or your acquaintance, teaching them how to Facetime, Skype or WhatsApp call — if they don't know how to already — would probably be a good thing. Social distancing is going to be very hard on the elderly.”
In the US, a nationwide mobile Coronavirus testing system is expected to be rolled out next week, in order to speed up the testing of people who may be reporting symptoms of Coronavirus or may have come in contact with someone who may have later had a confirmed Coronavirus status. In Italy, the national health service called the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN) fears that their system is groaning under the weight of the Coronavirus infections. “This is a war,” said Massimo Puoti, the head of infectious medicine at Milan’s Niguarda hospital, as reported by the New York Times. Niguarda is one of the largest hospitals in Lombardy, in north Italy, which has been badly hit in the Coronavirus pandemic. In India, most states have shut down cinema halls, partially restricted mall operations, nightclubs and large gatherings, for instance, in an effort to contain the community spread of the Coronavirus.