Everyone’s become an epidemiologist in the coronavirus outbreak

This is a serious threat, and there are serious concerns, and there is reason to worry. But there are also responsible ways of dealing with the crisis enveloping our lives and threatening our health.

THIS IS A serious threat, and there are serious concerns, and there is reason to worry. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
THIS IS A serious threat, and there are serious concerns, and there is reason to worry.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
This new virus COVID-19 has consumed almost every conversation, every news broadcast, every website. Almost every email, every text, every meme is about – you guessed it. It has become all-consuming; people are worried.
Everyone is talking, practically nonstop, about the virus. And almost everyone talks as if they are an expert, an epidemiologist, an infectious disease expert, or both. Most people don’t know the difference between a bacterial and a viral infection, and yet feel free to spout information and make pronouncements.
And you know what? It’s okay. It’s all right. It is how people are dealing with this crisis. With all the tension ratcheted up with every passing newscast, with all the hype and frenzy the media are creating, this reaction is only natural. Denial would be an unnatural, even unhealthy, response. So, yes, this is okay.   
This is a serious threat, and there are serious concerns, and there is reason to worry. But there are also responsible ways of dealing with the crisis enveloping our lives and threatening our health and our future.
Most physicians have no idea of what is happening. Most medical doctors are in the same boat as the rest of us – getting their information from the same media and receiving the same updates we, the masses, are getting.
Real experts – virologists and epidemiologists, can’t give satisfactory answers to basic questions because there is not enough material to actually answer the big questions, such as risks, transmission and timing. They give good global answers and offer protocols and procedures that are prudent and safe responses.
I AM a student of history, politics and society and international affairs. What I am observing on those fronts is frightening and needs serious discussion.
The two non-free societies worst hit by COVID-19, China and Iran, are not being totally honest about the decimation this virus is causing them. That should not surprise anyone. They are dishonest about everything else; this would certainly not be an exception to one of their basic policies and rules for survival.
In this case, much like nuclear proliferation, their lack of transparency endangers the entire world.
The sheer numbers and details about the virus that they have but refuse to share would allow public health analysts and especially the epidemiologists and the virologists to track and graph the virus. The information they are willfully withholding would enable professionals to evaluate just how lethal the virus is. We know it is lethal – but not how lethal and not what the numbers and the risks are.
As best it could, China hid the virus from the world when it first erupted. China is still hiding information and hindering the rest of the world’s ability to defend and protect. We do know that, as the bell curve goes, the course of the spread of COVID-19 in China seems to have peaked and is now on its way down.
Iran is suffering terribly from coronavirus.  But how bad is it? On Saturday the Iranians admitted that another 97 people have died, bringing their total to 611 deaths. They say they have 12,729 confirmed cases. But like China, Iran is not a free society. And, like China, the fear is that Iran has been even more severely hit by the virus than we can surmise from the information we do have, and that they are understating the numbers of the sick, the dead, and people testing positive.
Oppressive governments avoid the truth because they fear the truth will make them appear weak. In reality, it is the lies that show their weakness. Their lies illustrate how afraid they are of their own people. If the people think that their leaders are not handling the crisis well and that people are dying, the leadership fear a revolt. Now that is a fear that may very well be justified.   
These leaders also fear that their international standing will be eroded if it is seen that they did not stop the virus from spreading. That fear is not justified. It speaks more to national ego than to the laws of nature and science.
A conundrum emerges. These non-free societies need outside help, but they cannot receive help unless they open up and share more information.
We know that a very large component of the upper echelon of the Iranian leadership has fallen ill to the virus and many of them have even died. What are they not telling us? Were the Iranians in China hobnobbing with senior Chinese officials? I believe they were. But where were they, why were they there, and with whom did they meet? Did someone from China come to them? And it would be helpful if we knew the common denominator between the cases of China’s coronavirus and Iran’s coronavirus.
Neither Iran nor China will give us answers. They would rather put the rest of the world at risk. They are more interested in perpetuating their own myths of invulnerability than they are in sparing the lives of what may be millions of people around the world. 
The author is a political commentator. He hosts the TV show Thinking Out Loud on JBS TV. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern.