Editors at Issues and Insights consider the ongoing panic surrounding the nation’s approach to COVID-19.

This week, California, which has a death rate that is less than half the national average, is rolling back its reopening amid an increase in coronavirus cases. Elsewhere, we’re awash in stories about how states have reopened “too soon.” Why the continued panic when we know that the disease is far less lethal than originally feared?

If nothing else, the coronavirus pandemic is a textbook example of how to create fear and anxiety that is out of proportion to the threat, and spur panic-induced policies that needlessly kill people (like seniors in New York nursing homes). It also demonstrates how to keep the panic going, even as evidence piles up that the initial fears were wildly exaggerated.

Before anyone accuses us of being indifferent to COVID-19 deaths, or of being conspiracy mongers, we feel the need to point out that we aren’t saying that the coronavirus isn’t a serious public health threat. It obviously is. The question is whether the risk is being exaggerated and whether public policies enacted in the wake of it are necessary or effective.

Here are … steps that the got the coronavirus panic started and why it continues to this day.

1. Wildly exaggerate the deadliness of the disease. Most perceptions of the coronavirus were formed when the World Health Organization announced that the fatality rate was above 3%. If true, there would be millions of people dead. But it wasn’t even close to accurate. …

… 2. Overcount deaths and undercount cases. These perceptions have continued because of the way cases and deaths are counted. …

… 3. Ignore positive trends. Amid all the agonizing over the rise in new coronavirus cases are data that should be reassuring, but are being largely ignored. For example, while the number of new cases has been skyrocketing, the number of deaths hasn’t.