It certainly did not take long for Americans go get whipped up into a frenzy of fear as we saw this novel virus build in China then head our way. People were dying. It was going to be bad, maybe real bad. In short order the fear sent us running into the protective arms of governments, federal and state, promoting security if only we would fall in line and obediently do whatever they told us we must. Surely we would not be misled. This was a crisis and a serious one at that.
No extreme was too extreme. No dictate was to be questioned. Just do it for your own good because those making the decisions know what is best for you. So we complied. We trusted as our elected officials closed down non life sustaining businesses that they defined as such. We were told we must social distance, never getting closer that 6 feet from another human not a resident of our house. Then came lockdown. Then stay at home. Then school closings. Now we should, sometimes must, wear masks. Playgrounds are strangely surrounded by caution tape. The official screws kept tightening, first suggestions, then orders, then certain acts of freedom would be treated as crimes.
Even voluntary measures have gotten weird, as grocery stores have started limiting the number allowed inside at any one time and the isles have become one way with no passing allowed.
So here we are in the middle of April with our economy trashed. We’re enduring an increase in suicide, domestic violence, divorce, and drug/alcohol use/relapse for which no one is taking responsibility. Medical and dental procedures that are not emergency are being delayed without regard to possible negative consequences. Our mood can be described as dour. We’ve no timeline for restoring normalcy but we know we must sometime, when the authorities tell us we can, of course.
From the start I sensed something was terribly wrong. At first I sort of bought in to flattening the curve and mitigation from the aspect of preventing hospital systems from being overrun in our urban areas, but blanket shutdowns and extreme avoidance everywhere made no sense because the virus wasn’t going anywhere, and we couldn’t hide forever. I remember commenting in social media exchanges that exposure had benefits because it would confer immunity, or that sooner or later we would have to emerge from isolation in its presence, or that we really can’t stop the virus but only manage its inevitable progression. Responses were typically of the sort that someone might get it and then take it to a vulnerable person who might die and how would that make you feel?
Compliance has taken hold, and taken blindly that can be dangerous. People complain that others are not staying home enough. They complain if too many people at the grocery store are not wearing masks and call them irresponsible. They will be obedient in their distancing and may say something to another they think is not. They will not go out and drive around just to go out and drive around and cannot understand those who do. Some are even asking for a tighter lockdown and stricter rules. Among some it’s not PC to criticize or question authoritative policy. This is what I consider a herd mentality of submissive blind obedience to what may in fact be taking us in an entirely wrong direction.
Then there is herd immunity, too little understood, but an essential process in ending a pandemic. I understood the basic concept but dug for details and a better understanding of how it actually works. From what I found, once a person is exposed to an infectious agent it confers on them immunity so it cannot infect them again. Once this exceeds about 60% of individuals in the population, everyone in the population begins to benefit. As the process progresses, more and more often the virus (in this case) infects someone who has only immune people around them. The virus is trapped and ends right there. Transmission slows down without distancing, in fact as a result of the process of mixing. It’s just hard for most people to get their head around the concept that promotion of transmission can be beneficial. When herd immunity reaches 80% and above in a rather short period of time the virus will run into enough of these roadblocks that it will snuff itself out and the pandemic ends.
Fortunately, so perhaps people will believe this, I found an article at World Net Daily titled “Epidemiologist: Coronavirus Could Be ‘exterminated’ if Lockdowns Lifted“. In it PhD epidemiologist of 35 years, Knut Wittkowski, lays it all out, validating my thinking and more. From his perspective we’re doing everything wrong and I agree. He does not deny that “flattening the curve” works in the short term but only prolongs, rather than concludes a pandemic, by delaying the always necessary herd immunity.
He does state the need to sequester those most at risk first and seal off nursing homes. Fortunately, in the case of the novel coronavirus that is easy by how heavily its most serious presentation skews to easily identifiable individuals within the population. According to the CDC, as of April 13, over 90% of all US deaths have been those over 55 years old. Since about 20% of all cases will require hospitalization, if isolating that group along with other known risk factors like diabetes and high blood pressure could reduce hospitalizations to under 5%, that might protect hospital capacity as well as social distancing and lockdowns. Wouldn’t covering lost wages of those sequestered have been a tiny fraction thrown at the big wreck we created?
Subsequent to this, another article featuring Wittkowski has appeared at the American Institute for Economic Research. They claim that hundreds of epidemiologists and other medical research professionals were never consulted in the frenzied formation of pandemic policy.
In fact not only does Wittkowski not recommend social distancing, he encourages spread of the virus by not closing schools, as children must be allowed to mingle so as to help achieve herd immunity more quickly. It seems rather cruel to those sequestered to do this any other way, as they can never feel safe reentering from isolation so long as there remain many unexposed people ready to serve as vectors to quickly spread new waves of infection. Only once the virus runs through the low risk population and dies out can the high risk folks safely return, but Wittkowski claims this can happen in weeks if we let it go. On this, although he does not mention it, I assume Wittkowski would also reject business closures and masks. Exposure does, after all have benefits, and the pandemic cannot end until herd immunity has been achieved.
By closing schools especially and becoming obsessed with preventing each new infection via mitigation not only are we prolonging the pandemic, especially problematic for those at high risk, we’re setting ourselves up for waves of recurrent infections and lockdowns, some are now suggesting may cycle over the next 18 months. Does this sound better than putting this behind us quickly? The psychological exasperation alone should frighten us as much as the virus.
But what about the promise of control after mitigation by “identify, isolate, and contact trace” we’ve heard so much about? Wittkowski makes the point that contact tracing HIV is a challenge and dismisses it as foolish.
There’s only one way that mitigation via economy crushing lockdowns and social distancing would be the better choice. If there was an effective vaccine on our doorstep, ready to go within weeks, and herd immunity could be gotten that way it would make sense, but that luxury is not ours at this time. How could the current state of affairs extend that long?
We need to accept that there is no path where all deaths from this new virus can be eliminated. Had we taken the path Wittkowski suggested, our economy would not be in shambles, along with the aforementioned collateral damage. Our civil liberties would still be intact, and following the much shorter period needed to get through this there may well even be fewer deaths.
This is the relaxed path Sweden has taken and controversy has swirled around it. There are very few restrictions. Schools are open and people still gather in public. It has not always been an easy ride, and they’ve considered stricter quarantines, but just today I looked at their daily new cases on the Johns Hopkins dashboard. and all of a sudden the numbers appear to be plummeting. If this continues, they may be getting close to the end. The proof will come over time by seeing no new waves as we are likely to experience here. They never trashed their economy or gave up civil liberties. Come next fall/winter they may be the most normal and safe from Covid-19 place on the planet. Then we’ll wish we had followed their path, the one favored by academic epidemiologists like Knut Wittkowski.