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Archive for November, 2020

This pandemic has spawned an army of instant armchair epidemiologists not only from scientific and medical laypeople, but from scientists and physicians who, frankly, have no training or experience in epidemiology beyond some perfunctory medical school/grad school course. Their pontifications have been disastrous for public policy and public cooperation. Nowhere has this ignorance reigned more supreme than with the concept of Herd Immunity. I’ve written about it here, if the reader wishes to come up to speed.

Essentially, when at least 70% of a population has survived an infectious disease, the resulting immunity makes them unable to become diseased again. This sufficiently breaks the transmission chain so that the remaining members are unlikely to get ill, and if some do, they are isolated cases for the most part. Those few are protected by the immunity of the majority. It’s getting to 70% immunity that’s the nightmare. We have 248,734 dead as of this morning, and will have surpassed the quarter-million mark in two days (just 8 months into this pandemic). So when people say we should open the economy full-throttle with no mitigation protocols in place in order to achieve herd immunity, what they are saying is that we should suffer 4.8 million dead at the current case fatality rate of 2.1% as we get to 70% of 328 million people infected. 

That’s not medicine.

That’s butchery.

Our numbers are as low as they are because of all the mitigation efforts that have been employed. Eight months in and we only have 11,365,323 confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins. Now when we consider that up to 45% of cases can be asymptomatic, that puts us at around 24,000,000 total cases in the US, or 10% of the population. having been infected. 10% is not 70%. That leads us to our first bit of erroneous guidance from some, namely, that places such as New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island who were hit hard earlier this year, and whose numbers plateaued throughout the late Spring and Summer, had achieved herd immunity at a much lower percentage (around 20% infected), as evidenced by their sustained plateaus.

The data suggest otherwise. Here are the graphical Data from Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center’s page on the states. Let’s look at the states that supposedly hit herd immunity and where they are as of this morning:

 







So what do we notice? New York is half-way to its Springtime peak.

New Jersey has just surpassed their Springtime Peak.

Connecticut and Rhode Island have just doubled their Springtime peaks.

Oops. That’s not supposed to happen when herd immunity has been achieved. But the beauty of being an internet sensationalist is that there are no governing bodies, editorial boards, etc. to hold one accountable. How many of the recently infected in the above four states believed themselves to be under the protection of a herd immunity they really didn’t understand?

{A note on the graphs. The very end of the data line usually dips down at the very end because of the uncertainty of the last-reported data, which are usually incomplete for a few days after initial reports. It takes a few days of consistent trending downward to accept that a true decline is in progress.}


{Also, the graphs represent the number of new cases per day}

Our armchair experts also suggested that the rest of the country, especially rural states, would experience no real impact because people were so spread out. I disagreed then and held out the following scenario:

When we reopened the economy people would hit the road and resume travel. They would feel safe in rural areas and not use mitigation strategies at the gas stations, truck stops, and fast food restaurants all along the Interstate Highway System, all of which employ local residents. The employees would contract the virus, bring it to their families, and then to their small, intimate country churches and local bars. The results would be catastrophic for rural communities. Five months later that’s exactly what has come to pass. Let’s look at what were held to be some of the safest places in the nation:



So let’s keep this short and sweet. Reaching herd immunity at anything less than 70% population infection is fantasy and wishful thinking. Believing it can happen at 20% is hallucinogenic.

We either get serious about mitigation and flatten the curve, or we see these numbers skyrocket beyond where they are now. With Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukkah, and the rest of the holidays and their shopping season upon us, I really don’t see reduction of numbers happening.

Quite the opposite, actually.

Herd Immunity? Forget you ever heard of herd immunity. That’s the result of either 4+ million dead from infection, or a good vaccination program. It benefits a lucky few, and even those will not be spared the sting of death among family and friends.

Mask. Distance. Reduce contact time. Frequent hand washing. Liberal use of hand sanitizer.

Rinse and repeat.

God Bless.

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