Read the New York Times carefully enough and coronavirus clues emerge that contradict the scarier narrative that dominates the front-page headlines.
Here is a passage from an article that appeared today on page D5:
Many student health centers have seen patients with the coronavirus all spring and summer, thanks to students who remained on campus. At this point, they've become adept at treating the kind of mild Covid-19 infections common in young adults, Dr. Malani said. If they are in a dormitory, the school may send them to a separate building to isolate while they are ill. If they are in an apartment or a house, a friend should bring them food so they can isolate in their room. "For most of them, they are sick for three or four days, then they start to feel better," she said.
The "Dr. Malani" is Dr. Preeti Malani, the chief health officer at the University of Michigan, who is board certified in infectious disease.
Here is another passage, from a letter to a Times advice column that appears in the Sunday style section:
My wife and I are an older couple. We were terrified of Covid-19 and very careful about masks, social distancing and staying at home when possible. Still, I got the virus anyway. I didn't have to be hospitalized, and my wife was fine. We quarantined at home. I have no issue talking about our experience, but my wife doesn't want me to. She believes people will think less of us, that we were careless about the pandemic.
As I've said before, it's hard to predict accurately whether a specific person will get a severe case of Covid-19 or a mild or asymptomatic case (though age does seem to be a factor). This is a policy blog, not a medical advice column. I've been wearing a mask when I am out in public, washing hands frequently or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and avoiding crowds and public transportation. I know people who have died of Covid-19. I am not advising anyone to take it casually. Yet even with those caveats, it is worth keeping in mind that many coronavirus cases are precisely as described in these two New York Times accounts—"mild," not requiring hospitalization, and not even necessarily spreading to sicken a person in the same household.
Why is it worth keeping that in mind? For one thing, it can help to manage the anxiety or depression that otherwise might accompany the relentless grim or alarmist news. But for another thing, it can help calibrate the public policy response. If getting Covid-19 means being sick for three or four days, and not getting your spouse sick, maybe closing public schools, churches and synagogues, shopping malls, or summer camps for extended periods, as many big cities or states have done, is an overreaction.