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Coronavirus is a public health emergency, but here's why the flu should worry you much more

Posted: 6:53 PM, Jan 31, 2020
Updated: 2020-01-31 22:36:29-05

FLSUHING, Queens — The coronavirus is spreading, but not nearly as fast as panic and misinformation about the illness.

As it becomes a growing health care concern, there's also growing concern about ensuring that people know the facts about the virus, and that they don't scapegoat or discriminate against anyone regarding it.

The fact is, according to the federal government, which on Friday declared the coronavirus a public health emergency, Tri-state residents are susceptible to viruses in our area. However, coronavirus is not one of them. The one to which people in our region are most susceptible — the flu — is more widespread than it's been in years, and possibly ever, in the U.S.

It's potential deadliness is a reminder of why people need to be vigilant against all infectious illnesses.

On the streets of Flushing on Friday, there was an ongoing parade of people wearing surgical masks. The scene spoke volumes about concerns over the coronavirus in a neighborhood that's one of the largest Chinatowns in the country.

Here, there's no shortage of people who have, in recent weeks and months, been to China, where the coronavirus originated.

The Chinese connection has been problematic for some people in our region, as the local member of Congress pointed out.

"I had a friend who said she was sitting on the subway," Democratic Rep. Grace Meng said in an interview, "and someone pinched their nose and got up and left their seat next to them."

Meng said that that anecdote points out the harm that misinformation about the coronavirus can do.

In an attempt to fight discrimination and misconceptions, Meng was part of a panel discussion and news conference on the coronavirus at the Glow Community Center here on Friday afternoon. There was a similar news conference at Touro College in Midtown on Friday morning.

Both featured medical and public health professionals, and the news conference in Queens also had elected officials, including Rep. Meng and Peter Koo, the city councilmember representing Flushing.

"Coronavirus makes everybody nervous," Koo said. He added that the reason for the news conference was to calm people's nerves about the situation, and the main reason to be calm was pointed out by a deputy commissioner.

"We have no cases at this time in New York City," he said. He'd made the statement in part to counter a false rumor that somebody at Elmhurst Hospital had tested positive for coronavirus on Friday.

Another medical authority, Dr. Anthony Santella, a dean at Hofstra University, in its public health program, told PIX11 News that concerns by Tri-state residents for contracting the coronavirus should be small, in comparison to something else.

"People should be much more concerned about the flu virus," Santella said, in an interview.

The coronavirus is spreading in China, at a fast rate. Since the strain of the virus that's of concern now was discovered, exactly one month ago, approximately 10,000 cases have been reported. At least 213 people have died, all in China. While that is certainly sad, It is sad, it's on a much smaller scale than this season's flu virus in the U.S.

At least 15 million Americans have been infected, and more than 8,200 people have died from the flu this season, so far, in the U.S. The flu season doesn't end until March.