Panic! The coronavirus is coming! Lock your doors! Start wearing plastic bags over your heads! Don’t even look at China on a map!

Media companies need to cover the news, and I don’t have much criticism about the bulk of coverage the coronavirus is receiving in the United States (including a terrific overview by The Inquirer’s health desk). After all, this is a new virus with a number of unanswered questions surrounding it, so Americans should educate themselves on the basics of the new bug.

Unfortunately, much of that calm, deliberate reporting is undermined by the overblown, sensationalized coverage the virus is receiving on American cable news networks, where context plays second fiddle to sensationalism, dramatic graphics, and scary intro music.

But as my colleague Stacey Burling reported just a few days ago, the ordinary flu remains the more dangerous bug in the United States:

The CDC estimated Friday that 22 million Americans have gotten the flu this season, 210,000 have been hospitalized because of it, and 12,000 have died. That includes 78 children. Pennsylvania reported 1,311 flu-associated hospitalizations and 40 deaths through Feb. 1.

By comparison, just one American has died of the coronavirus — a 60-year-old American citizen, who contracted the virus in its epicenter of Wuhan, China. As of Monday, over 40,000 people in more than 20 countries have contracted the virus, which has led to over 900 deaths.

While the coronavirus remains a serious health concern, the risk to most people outside China remains very low. And so far, the mortality rate for coronavirus has proven far lower than for SARS. Too bad you don’t hear that often during TV news reports.

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