The flu is dangerous, too. So why are people so concerned about the coronavirus?

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- You know its name, you know its number, you know where it's been and you're probably concerned about where it's going.

Still, why are health officials, businesses, churches, schools, stores, gyms, restaurants and airports seemingly so worried about COVID-19?

"I think what's different about COVID-19, or the new coronavirus, is that it's new and we don't know everything we want to know about it," said Dr. Mandy Cohen, North Carolina's Secretary of Health and Human Services. "We also don't have medicine or vaccines and I think that is adding to folks' anxiety."

Dr. Cohen spoke with ABC11 after Friday's news conference, when state officials announced a second positive test for the coronavirus in North Carolina.

"What I would say is we're learning more every day, and what we've learned so far is that about 80 percent of folks who do come down with coronavirus are generally OK," Dr. Cohen added. "They're at home with flu and cold-like symptoms and they get better, but 20 percent of folks get more sick and those are the folks we are thinking about when we're making sure we need to be prepared to make sure we can take care of them."

The flu and coronavirus do have much in common, including their symptoms and their threat to the elderly and vulnerable populations.

Still, the flu has killed 127 people in North Carolina this season, including 11 in just that past week -- one of them a child. And yet, there was no news conference nor was there the kind of reaction from the public with the same sense of urgency as there is for COVID-19.

"Isn't human nature interesting? I think we're numb to it," Dr. Cohen said. "The flu's been around and around for a long time."

So is coronavirus really worth the stress?

According to Cohen, it's a balance: getting out ahead of the problem means there's more rational preparation instead of a furious reaction.

"We're also making sure we don't overwhelm our medical system all at once," she said. "A bit of this work is that if we do see this infection, we spread it out over time so that when people are sick, there's capacity at emergency rooms, there's capacity at our hospitals, there's capacity at doctor's office. If there was a big rush at once, that's where I would get concerned that people won't get access to care at the time they need it."

More than 95,000 people around the world have been infected by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, and more than 3,200 have died.



The newly identified virus was first detected in December in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the global outbreak. The virus, known officially as COVID-19, has since spread to every continent except Antarctica, and the World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a global health emergency. South Korea, Italy and Iran have the highest national totals of confirmed cases behind China, respectively.

In the United States, at least 188 confirmed cases have been detected through the local public health system. There are an additional 49 Americans diagnosed with the virus who were either repatriated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan or were evacuated from Wuhan on a U.S. government-chartered plane. So far, 12 Americans infected with the virus have died -- most of them at a single nursing home in the Seattle area.

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