Virus Alarmism … Or Not

[NOTE: This post has been UPDATED]

Heather Mac Donald has a typically (for her) superb article on the “misguided response to COVID-19.” I encourage everyone to read it. But…

I just sent her the following comments:

This piece is terrific, as usual!
I admit, however, to feeling some uncomfortable dissonance between my view of the social/political situation, about which I completely agree with you, and my personal situation, where I’ve come to believe that responding more in line with the extreme/alarmist views makes the most sense.
Specifically, I usually play tennis (doubles), indoors until late spring, around three times a week, with players in a group of about 35 or so other geezers. I enjoy this, it’s my main exercise, and to date, to the best of my knowledge, only 18 cases have been identified in Virginia, none near Charlottesville. But I’ve decided to put it on hold for now, with what my wife Helene regards as encouragement but what is in fact a non-negotiable demand; she, after all, is also giving up swimming every day.
Playing requires “exposure” not only to the three other players each time but also to all those present at the large sports club where we play.
Given current knowledge, my chance of coming down with the virus because of this tennis appear to be ridiculously slim. BUT, in the absence of testing, our current knowledge of how many people may now be carrying the virus is virtually non-existent, not to mention by next Tuesday, Thursday, etc.
In short, given the currently apparent slimness of the risk, continuing to play can be defended as a reasonable gamble. But the effect of gambling and losing is so extreme that it hardly seems worth the risk, however small (but in the absence of data, we don’t know how small). Much as I enjoy the tennis, it’s not essential.
For what it’s worth, our daughter, Jessie, a very smart physicist who is not an alarmist, whose keel is always even, recommends this course. On the other hand, one of the guys in my group, also a very smart physicist, who until retirement was provost at a prominent state university, is ambivalent but is continuing to play. (He was so ambivalent that I told him it was very helpful talking to him since no matter what I decided to do I could rely on him for authority.)

I hope my decision not to play will prove to have been alarmist, dumb, and unnecessary.

UPDATE 15 March

Last night the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot reported that Virginia now has 41 confirmed cases of COVID-19, up from 30 the day before. 18 of these are in Northern Virginia — not surprising, since, the Washington Post reports, “the number of covid-19 cases in the D.C. region is doubling every 48 hours.”

If you followed my advice (and link) and read Heather Mac Donald’s article, you should follow it again and read John McCormack’s strongly argued different view in National Review.

Say What?