Dr. Andy Watson of McComb had it right Tuesday when he told Pike County supervisors that the county probably has several hundred people infected with the coronavirus.

That sounds extreme, and in direct contrast to the daily Mississippi Department of Health updates. As of Wednesday, for example, the department said 10 Pike County residents have been confirmed with the virus, as have three people in Walthall County and one in Amite County. Statewide, the total was 377 infections.

The best explanation for the huge gap between Watson’s estimate and the state’s report is the lack of testing. The country has been unable to produce and distribute anywhere near the number of tests that would allow infectious disease experts to determine a more accurate record of the virus’ spread. That in turn would tell us how well the social distancing, self-quarantining and other protective measures are working.

The lack of tests goes hand in hand with the lack of symptoms displayed by some people who have the virus. A good example is U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, who got tested on a Monday but continued normal interactions for six days until his results came back positive last Sunday. How many other people out there, including in Southwest Mississippi, have felt little or no effect from the virus and thus have spread it unwittingly?

Also, consider this: If it’s true that the number of people who are actually infected is much larger than the number of confirmed infections, this implies that the coronavirus has a negligible health effect on many of the people it reaches.

This doesn’t mean we should ignore the problem, especially when there’s no confirmed treatment or vaccine for it. It’s no good if someone unaffected by the virus gives it to someone else who then gets seriously ill or dies.

But if the number of confirmed cases is an imperfect way to measure the impact of the virus, there’s a non-medical barometer right in front of us: the price of a gallon of gasoline.

In the past couple of months, unleaded fuel has dropped by more than 40 cents per gallon in McComb. It fell below $2.00 a couple of weeks ago and has continued a steady decline. Wednesday’s price at the three Interstate 55 convenience stores on Delaware Avenue was $1.77.

The coronavirus has attacked America and the world on two fronts — medical and economic. The economic impact is far easier to measure, and the 20 percent discount on gasoline is a symptom of excessive supply during a period of reduced demand.

When the price of gasoline starts to rise, that may be a signal that both the economy and the medical situation are getting healthier. For once, rising fuel prices would be welcomed.

Jack Ryan, Enterprise-Journal

CORRECTION: The editorial on Wednesday’s Opinion page used week-old information in ranking the number of coronavirus deaths around the world. As of Wednesday, more people have died in Italy (7,503) than anywhere else. Spain is now second (3,434), followed by China (more than 3,200) and Iran (2,077).

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