By Jeb Bladine • President / Publisher • 

Jeb Bladine: Take panic level up, but only by a notch

John Oliver — comedian, writer and political commentator — delivered some succinct advice this week for coping with the coronavirus scare:

“It depends what your regular level of panic is on a good day. Me, I’m at a regular 6 or 7. So with this, you probably have to go up a notch from wherever you were, but not too much … basically, just don’t be an idiot either way.”


Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

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When it comes to coronavirus, however, nervous laughter isn’t enough.

By now, everyone should know about fist and elbow bumps instead of hugs, kisses and handshakes; about coughing and sneezing into the crook of your arm; and about resisting unnecessary touching of public surfaces. When you do, wash your hands and don’t touch your face. Scratch your nose with a pen.

Meanwhile, personal panic meters drive vastly different responses.

Some people are quoting statistics from the 2009-10 Swine Flu Pandemic. Here are numbers from the United States alone, according to data extrapolations from the National Center for Biotechnology Information — 60.8 million cases, 274,304 hospitalizations, 12,469 deaths — and the actual figures could run up to 50% higher.

That flu predominantly killed people under age 65, including many children. It struck just 11 years ago, yet we barely remember it.

There was, justifiably, global angst. But I can’t recall this year’s level of panic.

Swine flu, of course, was nothing compared to the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic, which killed an estimated 50 million people around the world.

Back then, says the Centers for Disease Control, there were no vaccines and no antibiotics to treat secondary infections — only “isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene, use of disinfectants, and limitations of public gatherings, which were applied unevenly.”

Roxanne Khamsi, writing on, dismisses comparing coronavirus to the flu:

“The gambit of positioning the influenza virus as the scarier of two foes is as dangerous as it is hackneyed … These whatabout statistics aren’t really meant to sharpen our vigilance around the flu, or even to encourage us toward higher rates of vaccination. They’re just supposed to calm us down and make us realize that we needn’t go to pieces over some other, more exotic-sounding disease. By telling people not to worry — or that we should worry ‘more’ about the flu — we may end up eroding public trust in the media.”

It’s hard to know just how to react. As per John Oliver’s advice, with my own normal panic meter of about 2, I’ll go to a 3 and try to practice all the basic precautions.

 Jeb Bladine can be reached at or 503-687-1223.


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