NBC News’ Richard Engel Covering The Coronavirus Outbreak: “You Want People To Take Precautions, But You Don’t Want To Induce Panic”

Amid confusion and even misinformation about the coronavirus, networks are stepping up their special coverage to the outbreak, often with the aim of sifting through facts and myths and what is known and what is unknown.
On Sunday at 10 PM ET, MSNBC is devoting an hour to the topic with On Assignment with Richard Engel, in which NBC News’ chief foreign correspondent travels to Hong Kong to meet with doctors who are treating patients, and to Singapore, where he talk to scientific researchers studying the origin of the virus. He also interviewed Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Engel said that the coronavirus is “a medical story that is playing out on the global stage in which we don’t know what the end is going to be” — a scenario that is not all that different from conflicts and wars he has covered in his career.
Deadline spoke to Engel about the special, media coverage of the outbreak and the confusion about the seriousness of the threat. For example, the World Health Organization estimated a mortality rate of 3.4%; President Donald Trump said that it was his “hunch” that the actual mortality rate was much lower.
DEADLINE: First off, could you address the confusion out there. We’ve seen the coronavirus described as no more worrisome than the flu, then you see reports on the latest deaths.
ENGEL: That’s been the problem people were coming to terms with — what it is and how infectious it is, how contagious it is and how lethal it is. And those numbers have been have been fluctuating to some degree.
The experts that we’ve been speaking to, they’ve now come to a conclusion that it is something that spreads easily, and it does have a significant mortality rate. Somewhere between 2% and 4%, with 3.4% being the latest number from the WHO. But those numbers are somewhat confusing, because even at the 3.4% mortality rate, it changes depending on how old you are, and depending on what your pre-existing health conditions are like. That’s the average. If you were over 80 your mortality rate is much, much higher. And if you’re a young child, basically you’re unlikely you’re going to get this virus at all. So that’s part of the confusion.
There is this balance that you have to strike, where you want people to take precautions, but you don’t want to induce panic, and you don’t want to collapse the global economy, because that has effects that are also devastating. So it’s been a moving target. You have to understand the numbers profoundly to understand how it impacts you. And then this idea of trying to strike a balance between informing the public, taking precautions and not inducing runs on the bank, runs on grocery stores, people doing making irresponsible decisions.
You mentioned the flu. Even with 100 years of familiarity with the disease, even with a reservoir of immunity built up in our systems because it comes back every year. Even with flu shots, it still kills 300,000 to 650,000 a year. This new virus has only killed 3,000 or so right now, but it has the potential to become very widespread, and none of us have any pre-existing immunity to it because it is a brand new pathogen. That’s why it’s a such concern. Because if you think, ‘Oh, it’s just the flu,’ the flu is really bad. The flu is .01% mortality rate, and it kills 350,000 to 650,000 every single year. This is probably a factor of 10, at a minimum, more lethal than that, according to Dr. Fauci.
DEADLINE: President Trump was on Hannity, and he says he has a hunch that 3.4% number is much lower. Does that add to the confusion?
ENGEL: If you’re testing more people and more broadly, and you find out that this is actually far more widespread than we realized at the time, then it could drop your numbers down. And Dr. Fauci says that he thinks it’s closer to or will be proven to be closer to 1% down the road, not 2% or 3%. … He’s basing this on a lifetime of experience. But even at 1%, it’s still 10 times more lethal than the flu.
DEADLINE: The virus has been the focus of media coverage for weeks, but why are we seeing this response now? Businesses canceling events, flights being cut, movies delayed.

ENGEL: I thought it was pretty clear early on that this was going to be a major story with global implications. We decided several weeks ago to put this hour together because as it was spreading in China, as China was putting very severe restrictions in place on people’s travel and quarantine, I thought, ‘What do they know? Why are they so concerned about this? Why is China imposing these draconian measures and taking such severe action?’ … We decided early on we should do this. We should try and explain this as an hour, and do it in a way that is not just a bunch of health officials … but to go to the places to see how it’s impacting the economy, the frontline care workers, the people in the local communities, to try to get a sense of what this virus is, how deadly it is, and what can be done to contain it, and what are going to be the political and economic consequences of it.

DEADLINE: What did you experiences teach you about what will be unfolding in the next few weeks in the United States?
ENGEL: This is not going away. This is going to continue to spread, and more cases are going to be discovered. This is probably something that is going to go beyond just one season. It’s likely to recur again next year, and perhaps in the years following that.
The question is, ‘How disruptive is it going to be in our lives?’ Okay, we have the flu that comes around all the time, and we’ve gotten accustomed to it, and we know what it does. We know how to deal with it, and we understand that there is a tax that we have to pay for our humanity. I don’t mean a financial tax. I mean it metaphorically. Now we have a new tax. We have got a new thing that we have to pay for living on the planet, for living on top of each other, for exploiting our environment, for going into wildlife habitats that should not be penetrated. And we just don’t know how heavy this tax burden is going to be on all of us.
DEADLINE: What was it like the visiting with the researchers who are studying how this how this got started and who are also working on a vaccine.
ENGEL: This is a new coronavirus but it is a family of well-known viruses. So that’s one good thing. I saw a lot of cooperation when I went to the different laboratories in different countries. The experts knew each other, they were familiar with each other’s work. They all communicate. It wasn’t a climate of competition and of political hostility. I normally cover conflicts, and you don’t see the governments reaching out, sharing data, sharing experiences in a way that is happening right now.
DEADLINE: What precautions are you taking in traveling to places where there is a higher record of infections?
ENGEL: We have to be careful that we don’t get infected and we don’t end up becoming carriers. That’s the goal right now, to stay safe yourself and to make sure that you are safe, so that you’re safe for other people.
We went to a country and it had quarantine restrictions, so we had to make sure that we were following the suggested guidelines, as well as the security steps that are necessary for the different laboratories. In one lab I had to put on a whole breather suit. It was almost like I was going underwater, because I was going into a lab that is a clean facility where they don’t want outside bacteria coming in, they don’t want outside contaminates, and they don’t want what is within the lab to get out.
It is different from going into a political zone where you’re dealing with more human emotions. When you go to a war zone, you’re looking at the rebel group and you have to figure out the social dynamics. ‘What does this young man with a rifle want from me? How does he see me? Does he hate me?’ In this case you’re dealing with something that has no emotion, something that just does one thing, which is it tries to get inside of you and spread. So you have to take precautions that are more of thinking about your clothing, where you’re going, what you’re breathing, who you’re touching. It’s a different way of thinking.

This article was printed from https://deadline.com/2020/03/coronavirus-richard-engel-nbc-news-msnbc-1202876150/