While President Trump and the GOP attempt to convince us it’s as simple as reopening schools and getting back to work, others are pushing the idea of “herd immunity” as the best solution.
Both ideas are doomed to fail while the president tries to divert our attention away from the growing realities of his administration’s monumental failures to recognize and respond to this pandemic that is now projected to kill over 200,000 Americans by the time the November election rolls around.
What we now know about COVID-19 today is showing that contrary to getting better, it’s getting increasingly ugly, and likely to get a lot worse in the coming months. And pursuing the idea of herd immunity may likely prove ineffective and highly deadly.
Let’s be honest with ourselves, in spite of a host of excuses, misinformation and flat out lies by some politicians on the right attempting to paint the proverbial lipstick on this pandemic pig, the cold, hard and indisputable numbers of coronavirus tell a different and quite sobering story.
Things are not getting better.
Reopening too soon combined with a significant percentage of the US population refusing to wear face masks or follow recommended social distancing measures are the main factors behind the surge in new cases of coronavirus. As a result, broad areas of the country are now seeing dramatic new spikes of coronavirus infection in recent weeks – most notably in California, Arizona, Florida and Texas – and followed by critical shortages of available hospital beds in several states.
And the rest of the planet has been paying attention, denying Americans today access to travel to nearly most of the rest of the globe, fearing we will be carrying the virus and cause new case spikes there as well.
The White House refuses to admit to it’s pandemic response failures publicly but underscoring the growing crisis of these new outbreaks is news yesterday of the US Military sending medical equipment, supplies and staff to several of the COVID-19 hotspots across the country.
Adding to the growing crisis is news of several other states now also beginning to see new cases spike. Taking a closer look at Arizona provides a snapshot of what may be in store for much of the US as this summer progresses.
More than half of the new cases in the Grand Canyon state involve those younger than 44 years of age, further complicating the pandemic horizon as recent studies show that perhaps 1 in 3 young adults could be vulnerable to becoming severely ill from COVID-19 and possibly require hospitalization, if they are also smokers. Even if they don’t smoke, those numbers could be as high as 20%.
Younger Generations and Herd Immunity
Early on it was believed that COVID-19 was only a serious threat to the older population or those with other complicating health factors, and that still may be mostly true. But as the country began to slowly reopen, many in those most vulnerable demographics continued to self isolate to a large degree.
As restaurants, bars, pools, beaches and even movie theaters in some areas start to reopen, their returning customers are predominantly under 45 years old and they are largely driving this surge in new case numbers. And likely explains why we haven’t seen the quick to follow spike in new deaths following the reports of new infections, relating to the initial outbreak earlier this year.
Some are lauding these statistics, believing that this current scenario will only help the country reach herd immunity much sooner. Even if that is proven true however, it will likely come at a very high cost as we are only pushing the inevitable spike in new deaths further down the calendar.
Lethal Family Contacts
The coronavirus pandemic has upended the daily lives of the entire planet and for many of the over 70 million grandparents in the US today, contact with young grandchildren has been cut off. Older Americans have a higher risk of developing complications from COVID-19 and we now know that younger generations who contract the coronavirus infection are often asymptomatic carriers.
Extended family relationships have been put on hold for now, leaving grandparents longing for family connections they once took for granted and older grandparents may see the clock ticking.
Many choose to stay connected via phone calls and online chats but that only goes so far and the reality of family dynamics, economics and lifestyle situations will eventually lead to increasing numbers of physical contacts between younger and older generations.
And with those contacts, increasing chances of infection and death.
In the absence of a proven and effective vaccine, high death count numbers in those higher risk groups are still a probable outcome, sooner or later and there is growing evidence that reaching herd immunity is an unrealistic and possibly unattainable goal.
COVID-19 and Herd Immunity Obstacles
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the topic of “herd immunity” has spread almost as fast as the virus.
Epidemiologists define the herd immunity threshold for a given virus as the percentage of the population that must be immune to ensure that its introduction will not cause an outbreak. If enough people are immune, an infected person will likely come into contact only with people who are already immune rather than spreading the virus to someone who is susceptible.
Herd immunity is usually discussed in the context of vaccination.
For example, if 90% of the population (the herd) has received a chickenpox vaccine, the remaining 10% (often including people who cannot become vaccinated, like babies and the immunocompromised) will be protected from the introduction of a single person with chickenpox.
But herd immunity from coronavirus is different in several, key ways:
1) We do not have a vaccine. As biologist Carl Bergstrom and biostatistician Natalie Dean pointed out in a New York Times op-ed in May, without a widely available vaccine, most of the population – 60%-85% by some estimates – must become infected to reach herd immunity, and the virus’s high mortality rate means millions would die.
2) The virus is not currently contained. If herd immunity is reached during an ongoing pandemic, the high number of infected people will continue to spread the virus and ultimately many more people than the herd immunity threshold will become infected – likely over 90% of the population.
3) The people most vulnerable are not evenly spread across the population. Groups that have not been mixing with the “herd” will remain vulnerable even after the herd immunity threshold is reached.
Herd Immunity Without a Vaccine will be Deadly
For a given virus, any person is either susceptible to being infected, currently infected or immune from being infected. If a vaccine is available, a susceptible person can become immune without ever becoming infected.
Without a vaccine, the only route to immunity is through infection. And unlike with chickenpox, a higher percentage of those infected with coronavirus die from it.
Now in mid-July, we are quickly approaching 140,000 deaths in the US from COVID-19, and the disease can have lingering health consequences for those who survive. Moreover, scientists don’t yet know the extent to which people who recover are immune from future infections, further complicating the idea of herd immunity.
It’s just not going to happen without an effective and comprehensive vaccine, taking into account the growing list of mutations that have already been documented with coronavirus that are further complicating the possibilities for any of the vaccines working their way through clinical trials to achieve final FDA approval.
This Winter could be a COVID-19 “Perfect Storm”
Health care systems often struggle in winter with conditions such as asthma, heart attacks and stroke tending to worsen in colder temperatures, and some infectious diseases like influenza spread more easily, translating into a higher patient load.
While we know far more than we did six months ago about COVID-19, it’s still not known to what degree infection with Covid-19 this past spring confers immunity. There is also the possibility that the coronavirus could interact with the common cold, influenza or rhinovirus in a way that’s unexpected this winter, possibly creating conditions for the perfect pandemic winter storm.
And scientists are warning us now that the planet best prepare for a potential uptick in cases that could be more serious than the initial outbreak.
Coronavirus cases will likely become more challenging to track and trace, given COVID-19 symptoms are similar to those of winter respiratory bugs and lockdown measures may prove more difficult to enact / enforce on already quarantine-fatigued populations.
The Northern Hemisphere may have had a mild flu season last winter, but there is still the risk of a flu epidemic this year. Plus, the pandemic has disrupted and stretched health care in many countries, leading to a backlog of patients and exhausted frontline workers who are still reeling from the staggering number of cases so far.
Politics over Public Health Care
The president and his White House have taken a lot of criticism for their pandemic response many see as driven primarily by politics in lieu of science and CDC guidelines promoted by this administration’s own health care professionals.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who oversaw what is arguably the most successful coronavirus response of any state to date, left standard political etiquette behind yesterday, saying: “Trump’s COVID scandal makes what Nixon did at Watergate look innocent. Nobody died in the Watergate scandal.”
Cuomo went on to defend Dr. Fauci: “Now [Donald Trump] is attacking science. What a surprise. No surprise. He’s been attacking science from day one.” New York saw how a proactive response following health care professional’s advice helped the skyrocketing number of coronavirus cases and deaths in New York to plummet, even as it the virus continues to grow out of control in numerous states today, governed by Trump’s allies.
Jobs Permanently Lost
In spite of the unemployment rate falling a bit, it remains extremely high and the pollsters over at FiveThirtyEight – who probably keep as good a connection to the pulse of the country as anyone today – are warning of an important data point that this White House refuses to tell all of us:
More and more people are losing their jobs permanently.
“Underneath the surface of the June report, there were signs that the recession is deepening. Crucially, the number of workers who have permanently lost their jobs rose quite a bit — signaling that for an increasing number of Americans, getting back to work won’t be an easy matter. And the unemployment rate for white Americans continues to be much lower than the unemployment rate for Black, Hispanic or Asian Americans. That’s an important reminder that some workers are continuing to do much better than others as the recovery creaks into gear.”
“As more job losses become permanent, this recession will look more and more like an ordinary recession, where in recent history the recovery has been a slow slog,” said Nick Bunker, the director of economic research for North America at the Indeed Hiring Lab, a research institute connected to the job-search site Indeed. “That means the hopes of a quick recovery will be slimmer and slimmer.”
Sectors beginning to recover could be hit again
“And the hammer might fall yet again on sectors like leisure and hospitality, which includes the restaurant industry. Several states allowed restaurants and even bars and casinos to reopen at partial capacity in May and June — only to abruptly close them again when case counts started to spike. That means that some of the workers who finally got to return to their jobs as servers, bartenders or blackjack dealers might well be unemployed again in the July report.”
“Next month’s report could be a sobering reminder of just how fragile any economic gains are — at least while the virus is still spiraling out of control in many parts of the country. So we’ll know better by next month whether the concerning trends in this report have deepened, as well as how much the recent COVID-19 outbreaks across the country have hamstrung the nascent recovery. In typical fashion, our economic data is moving at a much slower pace than the virus, which leaves us guessing at where things might head next.”
Taking Lipstick Off the Pig…
Most Americans have grown tired of listening to our president misrepresent and often outright lie about the facts of this pandemic. We are growing increasingly doubtful of his ability to lead us through this growing crisis with so many regions of the country dealing with new coronavirus spikes, an economy not responding to his overly optimistic and unrealistic cheerleading efforts and his dictating a pandemic response policy based on his personal political agenda.
Polls show we aren’t buying that either as several surveys all show that Americans – in overwhelming numbers – trust Dr. Fauci over the president in how to best deal with this COVID-19 pandemic. We have all seen now how other countries have managed to control the viral outbreak by following their health professionals.
And that explains perfectly his new focus in recent weeks in this latest White House shell game: ignoring the pandemic numbers while attempting to divert our eyes from his failed leadership to the latest talking points of “radical left,” “totalitarianism,” “angry mobs” and “looters.”
And the rest of the GOP seems unsure yet of how to respond…