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Educate yourself on COVID-19

A key indicator of confidence in the economy, the Dow Jones Industrial Average on the New York Stock Exchange, dropped by more than 1,000 points at the beginning of the week — primarily because of fear about a cousin of the common cold.

COVID-19, the name public health officials have given to the strain of coronavirus that is causing disease outbreaks throughout the world can cause a variety of maladies, including many types of colds. By Tuesday, COVID-19 was being blamed for 2,668 deaths, nearly all of them in China. About 80,000 cases had been reported, also mostly in China.

Efforts to slow the spread of the disease included Beijing’s virtual quarantine of entire regions. Multiple industries, including shipping and travel, have been affected. Big sell-offs in stock markets appear to have resulted from fear of potential widespread damage to the world economy. This is not just a public health concern, it is a financial health problem, too.

There are good reasons to worry. Officials warn that though there are only a few dozen cases of the disease in the United States, it is virtually inevitable COVID-19 will spread here.

But how worried? Start by understanding how dangerous COVID-19 can be. In Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak, fatality rates from the disease range from 2-4%. Outside that area, the fatality rate is about 0.7%. In other words, about one of every 140 people who contract the illness may die.

Here in the U.S., where the quality of health care is much better than in most other regions of the world, expect a lower fatality rate — unless hospitals become overrun with COVID-19 patients. At this point, that seems unlikely.

COVID-19 is one more of any number of wake-up calls humankind has received regarding “emerging diseases.” For now, it appears that though the new coronavirus represents a serious outbreak, it will not be on the scale of, say, the 1918 influenza outbreak (another coronavirus, by the way) that killed at least 20 million — possibly 50 million — people throughout the globe.

That means it is not time to panic — regarding your health or your finances; but it is time to pay attention and use a little common sense, for both.

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