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5 Reasons to Be Terrified of the Coronavirus (and 5 Reasons Not to Be)

Kenneth J. Lopez, J.D.
By: Kenneth J. Lopez, J.D.

Statistics, Trial Graphics, Litigation Graphics, Litigation Consulting, Demonstrative Evidence, Science, Psychology, Persuasion

I love what we can do with data at A2L, particularly when we couple well-chosen words with well-designed litigation graphics. I think this area of our litigation consulting work is one place we add tremendous value.

We can overplay a threat, or we can make something seem harmless. The latter is MUCH harder to do. Today, I'll focus on how one can use language and data to either inflame or calm your audience selectively.

Why would you want to do this? Frankly, it's one thing trial lawyers and trial consultants do every day. Litigants on both sides of a case work with highly creative people who find ways to message the truth in a way that favors the client. Virtually every type of case benefits from this kind of statistical messaging. Fear is the best lever we have to motivate decision-making.

We've written about this sort of thing before in articles like:

The coronavirus is no joke, and I don't intend to be lighthearted or flippant about it. But, most of us are talking about every day now, right? And, the cacophony of those discussions will only get louder over the next month. It's an accessible and relevant example to use to make a point, and this article might even give you a talking point or two. As you read this article, remember, the point of this post is to point out how easy it is to use (arguably) accurate data to influence decision-making, not to use false data to make your point. Anyone can do that.

So, should you be scared of the coronavirus? Presented below are two sets of five talking points, and all of them are true. As you read through them all, ask yourself, which side won out? Fear or peace.

5 Reasons to Be Terrified of the Coronavirus

  1. It's everywhere, and there is no cure. COVID-19 is probably very widespread already, and more frighteningly, we just don't know how widespread. We've all heard that testing in the U.S. was flubbed very badly. Source. So, given that we've only seen 135 cases in the United States, why might we worry that it is everywhere?

    Well, the old lily pad adage explains why worrying about the spread is well-founded. If you know a pond will be fully covered by lily pads after 48 days, and that lily pads will double in coverage every day (as the coronavirus does), how many days will it take before the pond is half covered?

    Our readers are some of the smartest, most educated people in the world, so I bet you figured that one out. It's day, forty-seven. But, the point of this example is the troubling follow-up question: at what point would you really notice the lily pad coverage? The answer is somewhat scarily, maybe, day forty-three, forty-four, or day forty-five when coverage is around 5-10%. So, we only may be at day five or so in this metaphor, which is why we don't really notice the virus close to us yet. The incubation time before symptoms show up may be weeks, and many never show symptoms. Maybe we will understand how widespread it is once actual testing starts in a week. One expert believes there may already be 100,000 cases in the U.S. Source.

  2. Brain damage. Announced yesterday, it can cause brain damage. Source.

  3. 30x worse than seasonal flu. Announced this week by WHO, it's more deadly than first believed. The death rate could be 30x that of the regular flu. Source.

  4. The U.S. impact is delayed, but it will be just as bad as China in a month. The U.S. is likely where China was two months ago (hundreds of reports cases and deaths in the dozens), so if you want to know where we will be two months from now, you need only look at China today.

  5. Your demographic may be your downfall. If you are a male, above 50, and happen to have high blood pressure, high blood sugar, or asthma, your chances of death may be closer to 1 in 10 while younger perfectly healthy men may be 1 in 100 or lower. Source. Worse, as younger generations come to realize they are at very low risk, will they continue to be cautious about spreading the virus?

5 Reasons NOT to Be Terrified of the Coronavirus

  1. It's not all that different from the seasonal flu. You're not scared of the seasonal flu, right? And the seasonal flu data is kind of intimidating. In the last flu season, 40 million Americans got the flu, and more than 50,000 died from it. Yet, you're still not really scared of the flu - and for good reason - you know your medical providers can handle it. Source. Worldwide, 650,000 people die from the seasonal flu each year. Source. Yet, you're still not scared of it. This flu isn't all that different.

  2. Recoveries already outnumber new cases. 50,000 people have already recovered from it, and almost everyone does recover from it. Source. Even better, since February 19, more recoveries are occurring than new cases every day. Source

  3. China is recovering fast. The Wuhan hospital has gone from 100% filled to 50% filled very quickly. Source (use translate).

  4. The death rate is probably much less than 1%. We've heard about death rates of 2%, 3%, and 10% for various populations, but it's probably safe to assume the death rate of the novel coronavirus is below 1% and possibly close to the regular seasonal flu that is not a huge threat. Source.

  5. You have a lot more control than you think. If you just sleep well, exercise, and wash your hands, you radically reduce your chances of getting sick and even preventing getting very sick. So, do that. Control feels good, right? Source.

If you're like most people, fear wins. You're left triggered after reading the first five points, and it is almost impossible to be soothed by the next five points. This is why they say fear is a 10x greater motivator than hope of gain. That's why politicians, propagandists, and those who persuade jurors for a living focus on fear most as a motivator. It works.

The reality is, I think, we are almost all going to be just fine. Just as swine flu came to be seen as relatively normal and non-threatening except for the infirm, it's likely COVID-19 will just be another seasonal flu to consider. Probably, the biggest disruption will be fear and the economic fallout of that fear.

So, I hope you and your loved ones come through this okay. You almost certainly will. 


Other free A2L Consulting articles about persuasion psychology, using litigation graphics to affect decision-making, and organizing your language in such a way that it motivates jurors to see things your way include:

persuasive storytelling for litigators trial webinar free

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