Commentary by WorldTribune, April 23, 2020
Those who are continuing to press for America to stay in coronavirus lockdown are ignoring solid evidence which shows America can and should re-open, analysts say.
“Americans are now desperate for sensible policymakers who have the courage to ignore the panic and rely on facts,” Scott W. Atlas of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution wrote in an April 22 op-ed for The Hill.
“Leaders must examine accumulated data to see what has actually happened, rather than keep emphasizing hypothetical projections; combine that empirical evidence with fundamental principles of biology established for decades; and then thoughtfully restore the country to function,” Atlas wrote.
Atlas noted several key facts:
• The overwhelming majority of people do not have any significant risk of dying from COVID-19. A recent Stanford University antibody study now estimates that the fatality rate if infected is likely 0.1 to 0.2 percent, a risk far lower than previous World Health Organization estimates that were 20 to 30 times higher and that motivated isolation policies.
In New York City, an epicenter of the pandemic with more than one-third of all U.S. deaths, the rate of death for people 18 to 45 years old is 0.01 percent, or 11 per 100,000 in the population. On the other hand, people aged 75 and over have a death rate 80 times that. For people under 18 years old, the rate of death is zero per 100,000.
• Vital population immunity is prevented by total isolation policies, prolonging the problem. We know from decades of medical science that infection itself allows people to generate an immune response — antibodies — so that the infection is controlled throughout the population by “herd immunity.” Indeed, that is the main purpose of widespread immunization in other viral diseases — to assist with population immunity. In this virus, we know that medical care is not even necessary for the vast majority of people who are infected.
It is so mild that half of infected people are asymptomatic, shown in early data from the Diamond Princess ship, and then in Iceland and Italy. That has been falsely portrayed as a problem requiring mass isolation. In fact, infected people without severe illness are the immediately available vehicle for establishing widespread immunity. By transmitting the virus to others in the low-risk group who then generate antibodies, they block the network of pathways toward the most vulnerable people, ultimately ending the threat. Extending whole-population isolation would directly prevent that widespread immunity from developing.
• People are dying because other medical care is not getting done due to hypothetical projections. Critical health care for millions of Americans is being ignored and people are dying to accommodate “potential” COVID-19 patients and for fear of spreading the disease. Most states and many hospitals abruptly stopped “nonessential” procedures and surgery. That prevented diagnoses of life-threatening diseases, like cancer screening, biopsies of tumors now undiscovered and potentially deadly brain aneurysms. Treatments, including emergency care, for the most serious illnesses were also missed. Cancer patients deferred chemotherapy. An estimated 80 percent of brain surgery cases were skipped. Acute stroke and heart attack patients missed their only chances for treatment, some dying and many now facing permanent disability.
In an April 23 op-ed for RealClearPolitics, William J. Bennett, former secretary of education, and Seth Leibsohn, senior fellow at the Claremont Institute, pointed out several “less-alarming truths that are generally being ignored by a media more invested in shock and frenzy.”
Among those, truths, Bennett and Leibsohn listed:
• The first numbers we heard were that the coronavirus would kill up to 2.2 million Americans. This dire prediction was the first out of the box and it stuck in too many minds, struck too much fear, and still lingers.
• The correction came late in March, as we were told to expect between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths in the U.S. But the death toll estimates keep coming in lower and lower. We are being told this is because of mitigation and distancing orders. Forgotten is that those six-figure numbers included and factored in mitigation and social distancing orders. That is, experts and government officials now tell us our numbers are lower because we are doing what they told us to do, but social distancing was always part and parcel of their high predictions. The same model used to predict 100,000 or more deaths now tells us to expect something closer to 60,000 deaths. Now, some health departments are artificially inflating their numbers. New York City’s Health Department is now counting “probable” COVID-19 deaths. As Dr. Deborah Birx put it, unlike other countries, “We’ve taken a very liberal approach to mortality . . . if someone dies with COVID-19, we are counting that as a COVID-19 death.”
• In closing schools, we drastically transfigured over 55 million children’s educational and social lives to protect them from a virus that affects them less than the annual flu. As of this writing, a total of three children have died from the virus in New York City — each of whom had underlying health conditions. Fewer than 10 children have died nationally from COVID-19, although about 80 have died from the flu. The argument that children could spread the new coronavirus to adults is true, but that is true of the flu as well. This has put an additional burden on families, children, and, for our poorest, has ripped millions of them from nutritious meals and trusted adults and institutions.
• The Trump administration did not neglect this virus. Instead, Democrats criticized the administration for doing too much and for too little at the same time. The travel ban from China was “xenophobic” in late January, but his declaration of a national emergency in early March was too late. Meanwhile, not one word about this virus was uttered at the February Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas, even though China was brought up several times in other contexts, such as in trade and defense policy. As late as Feb. 24, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was telling people, “We think it’s safe to come to Chinatown and hope others will come.” And, on the last day of February, the principle expert on whom the president relies and the press reveres, Dr. Anthony Fauci, stated: “Right now, at this moment, there is no need to change anything you are doing on a day-by-day basis.”
A panel of six medical professionals, led by anesthesiologist Jonathan Geach, wrote in an April 16 analysis for Medium.com that “The curve of new infections is declining and we do not need to wait for additional testing or a surveillance apparatus to be in place to re-open America.”
Geach and the panel offered several reasons to back up their assessment:
• The healthcare system is not overwhelmed, it is underwhelmed and being damaged. The purpose of “Flatten the Curve” was to prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed with patients suffering from COVID-19. The reality is that the healthcare system is now underwhelmed and healthcare workers are being laid off and furloughed in droves as a result of healthcare centers having neglected patient care not related to COVID-19 in fear of a COVID-19 surge that failed to materialize on a nationwide basis. This means tens of millions of patients are failing to receive the medical care they need in a timely manner. Almost every hospital outside of the hotspots is empty.
• New data supports the idea that COVID-19 is much more widespread than previously believed. Researchers have tried an indirect approach to approximate the prevalence of the coronavirus by comparing the incidence of excess influenza-like infections that are correlated to areas of COVID-19 infection. “This corresponds to at least 28 million presumed symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 patients across the U.S. during the three weeks from March 8 to March 28.” They go on to note, “[T]hese results suggest a conceptual model for the COVID-19 epidemic in the U.S. in which rapid spread across the U.S. is combined with a large population of infected patients with presumably mild-to-moderate clinical symptoms.” This is a dramatic change from earlier projections and drops the projected IFR down to around 0.1 percent — or basically the same as this year’s flu.
• Many people are actually claiming that the large number of asymptomatic people with the disease requires prolongation of the shutdowns. The large asymptomatic group does quite the opposite. It demonstrates that the number of people who have already had the disease is very high and the actual infection mortality rate is much lower than we previously believed.
• The biggest concern voiced by public officials is that opening the economy is unsafe because it could, “Pour gasoline on the fire.” These officials don’t understand that most people who recovered from the infection are now immune and, thus, contribute to the development of “herd immunity”. If the next wave comes, the peak will be lower or, like in South Korea, where social distancing was only voluntary, it may be just a period of a low rate of new cases until herd immunity is built.
Geach added: “If the current level of herd immunity is so low that a second wave builds, it will take at least several months. The CDC estimated that it will likely be at least 150 days before a possible second wave. This would push it back to the fall at the earliest. A study published in The Lancet also states it would be several months before a possible second wave.
“Personal protection equipment (PPE), testing, and surveillance may not be optimized today, but all should be in place by this fall. At that time, politicians and scientists can determine how the elderly and vulnerable can be protected without needing to interrupt the economy.
In addition, the shutdowns are slowing if not preventing the development of herd immunity. This increases the chance and possible severity of a second wave of COVID-19 several months after the shutdowns are lifted.”
A recent study from South Korea states that about 100 people who previously had COVID-19 and tested negative have now tested positive again. This has led to rampant media speculation that there may not be lasting immunity from COVID-19.
Dr. Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist from Harvard University, wrote an editorial on this subject in the New York Times. He shows how similar viruses in the past have given long-term immunity. The SARS virus in 2002 gave two years of immunity on average. The MERS virus from 2012 gave approximately three years. He believes that COVID-19 will confer at least a year of immunity.
Regarding the South Korean concern about a lack of immunity. Dr. Lipsitch states that likely “these patients had a false negative test in the middle of an ongoing infection, or that the infection had temporarily subsided and then re-emerged.”
Geach noted that “One small study should not keep us from opening the economy over a mostly theoretical concern.”