It is slowly dawning on the world and the US in particular that we are suffering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. We’re on life support. Our economic survival is 50-50, probably worse. How did we get here and where is here?
I’ll start with the newest information which should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with contagious viral diseases. A study from Stanford showed that as many as 85 times more people in Santa Clara CA may have been infected with the coronavirus than the official estimate. Furthermore, if this study is confirmed, the death rate from the disease could be in the same range as the flu. The Stanford investigators tested for antibodies to the virus the presence of which indicates prior exposure to the virus. Other infectious disease experts suggested caution in interpreting these results – now they’re cautious. Caution has not been the approach used to react to this epidemic.
What the study suggests is that most infected patients with the feared virus are asymptomatic. Asymptomatic viral infections are not a new phenomenon; they are the rule rather than the exception. When I was supervising dialysis units we would test the staff for hepatitis B, a blood born viral disease which was a problem for dialysis patients. We would routinely discover staff with high antibody titers who had never had clinically apparent hepatitis. They had no trace of the virus in their blood when tested. Obviously, they had experienced asymptomatic infections.
Dr Fauci said during the announcement of the federal government’s plan to reopen the economy that he was not turning on a switch, rather he was recommending a gradual reopening. But that’s not what he advised when the government first reacted to the epidemic. Shutdown the economy was the plan he took to the president – a switch not a rheostat.
I know it’s almost impossible, but try to forget politics for an instant. Suppose you’re the president and the nation’s top infectious disease expert comes to you and tells you that unless you shutdown the country’s economy millions of people will die. Not knowing anything about medicine, epidemiology, or science what can you do save comply with this soul crushing prediction. You could have gotten a few more expert opinions and perhaps the president did. His economic advisors likely told him that the cure was worse than the disease, but what leader could not act to stop millions from dying?
Herd immunity was an alternative, but was discarded as the medical advisors said it would take scores of millions of infections to achieve and that millions would die before widespread immunity was reached. Apparently the possibility that most infections are asymptomatic was not considered or thought to be too remote a possibility. You might think that experts in infectious diseases would be aware that large numbers of asymptomatic infections are a common occurrence during an epidemic. Up to 99% of people infected with the polio virus are asymptomatic.
Dr Fauci and his accomplices might have suggested an approach designed to protect vulnerable populations that would have let the economy remain opening albeit in an attenuated state. But apparently they did not. National suicide was thought preferable. Fauci likely was even more panicked than the president. Cooler heads almost never prevail. A hacksaw was used when a scalpel was wanted.
The president used war as a metaphor for the reaction to the corona epidemic. This was a poor choice. A nasty occurrence of a flu-like disease would have been more appropriate. He was not alone. The rest of the free world overreacted as did the US. What China, the source of the epidemic, did is unknowable.
The president is detested by the loyal opposition. Accordingly, they overacted even more than did he. Whatever he was for they were against. They said he did too little, when in reality he did too much. He wants to reopen the economy they want to keep it in hibernation. But the dead don’t usually revive.
If the arrival of a vaccine is your only signal for trying to return to normal, you may be disappointed. We still don’t have a vaccine for AIDS. The flu vaccine as reported here earlier doesn’t work though it will persist as a ritual passage of old age. And then there’s the sad reality that vaccines sometimes can make things worse rather than better.
So here we are with judges, mayors, governors, and even dog catchers violating the constitution with impunity as if they were Abraham Lincoln. Most of the public is too scared to protest, though a few brave souls have ventured from their shelters to insist they have rights. Our country, mired in debt, was surviving by passing it on to its grandchildren; we will be coldcocked by it now as the government prints limitless amounts of new money. We needn’t worry about running out of toilet paper, $100 bills will do as well. Though if the ink runs greenback will have a new meaning.
It is much easier to frighten the public than it is to unfrighten them. What if we opened the economy and no one came? How long before people will go to crowded bars and restaurants? Will they now let themselves be manhandled by the TSA? Will they get back on airplanes? Forget about cruise ships. How many businesses are gone forever? You can fill in the rest of the graveyard.
When all of this mishegas started I told a neighbor, at a distance of 6 feet of course, that we were about to commit national suicide he dismissed my observation saying that he would trust in the experts. The problem is that being an expert in one limited area doesn’t convey superior knowledge about anything else. In the immortal words of Bette Davis, “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”