COVID-19: Isolation or Reopening?

Girl with mask to protect her from Coronavirus

Everyone is still talking about the deadly Coronavirus, which I have discussed before. In my previous post, I discussed the importance of social distancing to flatten the curve, but this requires further explanation.

As we speak, the Trump administration is calling for the economy to “Re-open” by the end of the month. This would allegedly lift the calls for business and school closures as well as maybe even withdrawing certain health recommendations related to COVID-19. Meanwhile, some experts are saying this simply isn’t feasible.

We won’t be likely to have an effective vaccine for 12 to 18 months, and the effects of the spread, if not contained, could be deadly. The implications of the death tolls, though admittedly low in percentage points, is still disturbing. It’s also possible those numbers could go up if an acceleration in cases overwhelms the medical system forcing healthcare professionals to ration supplies and care.

On the other hand, the accelerating economic downturn is disturbing too, and it’s one we may not recover from for at least 3 years. Meanwhile, nearly half of U.S small businesses may be facing closures, and millions of people are out of work. Even if the government had the money to keep up the stimulus, we don’t, $1,200 a month isn’t going to be enough for most Americans. Meanwhile, stock values are still plummeting as the Fed is scrambling to keep the economy afloat. We won’t last 18 months like this.

An economic collapse would also cause more deaths than the pandemic itself. Already we see meat processing plants shutdown, possibly leading to even further food shortages than expected before. Not only that, but a weak economy is not going to have a healthcare system in place, public or private, capable of responding to future pandemics like this one.

Keeping the economy closed indefinitely is going to make the problem worse, but opening the floodgates isn’t much better either.

Why We Need to Slow, Not Stop the Spread

Too many people seem convinced that if we just ride this out long enough, the pandemic is going to sweep over us safely. The reality is, the epidemic isn’t going anywhere any time soon, and it’s not going to be stopped by only waiting it out. Virologists and epidemiologists seem to agree that the goal here is not to stop the deadly Coronavirus from spreading but to slow the curve.

Neither social distancing nor total isolation is going to irradicate the Coronavirus. Most sensible experts seem to agree. The best that we can hope for is riding out the storm long enough for the market to produce a vaccine, and perhaps more importantly, for the human population to develop immunities themselves.

The Importance Anti-Bodies and Immunity

Test tube of glass overflows new liquid solution potassium blue conducts an analysis reaction takes various versions reagents using chemical pharmaceutics cancer manufacturing

The importance of social distancing is not only to protect oneself from becoming infected with COVID-19. It is to protect the small handful of society’s most vulnerable members. Based on the statistics so far, the survival rates of COVID-19 are actually very high, but not for everyone.

Based strictly on data from the CDC, our mortality rates are at about 3% right now, based on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and related deaths. Those percentages will be going down as testing becomes more widely available, and the number of confirmed cases grows. Based on recent studies, as well as data from China, we seem to see that it presents the greatest danger to those with underlying health conditions or otherwise inadequate immune systems. Primarily, it claims the lives of those over 60 as well as those with health conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, or obesity.

In other words, it seems that optimal health and a robust immune system are vital in combatting the virus. Those who have them in place don’t seem to suffer much, and may even be asymptomatic. Because these individuals can still transmit the disease, it becomes essential to consider society’s more vulnerable members. Immunities are everything in this fight, especially since there’s no working vaccine and won’t be one for at least a year.

The Importance of Herd Immunity

Canva - Rows of Erlenmeyer Flasks 

Going back to why we can’t stop the spread of COVID-19 is going full circle when you understand the truth about pandemics like this. You don’t want to stop it. As I’ve pointed out, only about 3% of Americans infected die. Those numbers could go up or down depending on what we do from here. The answers, however, are anything but obvious. Herd immunity is vital in combatting a spread like this,  and arguably, even more so for preventing future outbreaks. Herd immunity happens and helps to eradicate the spread of a disease when 70% to 80% of the population contract the virus, recover and thereby afterward are immune.

Once this happens, a pandemic will eventually fizzle out. Trying to stop the spread entirely by going into full-on quarantine across the nation, may only slow this process down. We obviously want to prevent as many deaths as we can, but a full lockdown may not be the way to do it, especially when the economic toll is taken into consideration.

What to do About Coronavirus

As I said, there are no easy answers. Even so, I have advocated a balanced response over the mix of panic and nonchalance we’ve seen across the country. Common sense, practical social distancing measures may have to continue for some time. Total isolation and economic lockdown, however, may not be sustainable. If we are to endure a lockdown, it must be a temporary one until we can come up with a plan to protect the vulnerable, who, until then, should probably remain in a form of lockdown.

Primarily, we need more aggressive testing, but not just for those who may be positive for the disease. Just as vital is testing one’s immunity. This will give us a clear picture of who is safe and who is not. Until then, we may simply have to work with what we know and isolate accordingly.  We cannot, however, isolate the nation. Instead, we should focus on helping vulnerable members as they endure a temporary lockdown of sorts in providing for their basic needs.

Isolating 3% or even 5%, is very doable. We can’t afford to isolate everyone for long, and doing so may only make this longer as it hampers the development of herd immunity until we wait for a synthetic vaccine.

 

 

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