Those are the buzzwords being trotted out by various government officials eager to get people back to work.
The premier of Quebec, François Legault, and his health ministers talked about it this week in their daily press conferences.
The idea is: people under a certain age will recover from COVID-19 and will then be immune to it. So, let them catch it, while senior citizens continue to lay low.
So, next week, the Quebec government will reveal its plan to restart the economy, and get kids back in school.
This after six weeks of telling everyone — of all ages — to stay home, wash our hands regularly, don’t touch our faces and if we have to go out to buy groceries or whatever, to practice social distancing. Oh, yes, and wear face masks.
Cities have been virtual ghost towns while terrified citizens have feared and shunned each other. Police have ticketed people seen getting too close to each other, to the tune of $1,500 plus for each infraction.
The economy has tanked while people have taken refuge in their homes, and governments have been racking up huge debts to help people layed off as a result of politicians’ decisions to lock down society and shutter most businesses in the first place.
Now politicians are throwing up their hands, Donald Trump style, and talking about rolling the proverbial dice: let the kids get sick, let people under the age of 60 get sick, and hopefully, they’ll make a full recovery and be immune to COVID-19 afterward.
Which begs a question or two: why didn’t they take this approach in the first place? Why did they destroy the economy and countless small businesses along with it when they could have simply told older folks to stay home until a vaccine is developed and let everybody else carry on mostly as usual, with some social distancing measures?
The answer, of course, is that they didn’t know six weeks ago that COVID-19 would mostly kill seniors, particularly those in seniors’ homes where COVID-19 has been spreading like wildfire in Quebec. About 90 percent of COVID-19 deaths in Quebec — some 1,300 — have been elderly people, mostly in aforementioned residences.
But most of the rest of the 23,500 people who have the disease in Quebec will recover from it.
There are potential flaws and risks in the herd immunity idea, and it could backfire. We could see millions of people come down with COVID-19 in Quebec and while most of them might recover, some won’t. How many? Who knows. Five to 15 percent of, say 4 million people in a population of 8 million plus? That’s acceptable?
And what about the long-term effects of COVID-19 on people who are asymptomatic or who recover after being ill with it? Does anybody know?
Clearly, officials in Quebec and many other cities are screwed. They’re damned if they do — and if they don’t. And many citizens have been so terrified for the past six weeks that they may be viewing the herd immunity idea with some — or a lot — of skepticism. In particular, school bus drivers, teachers and other adults in the education system are expressing fears about the plan to open schools to one million kids in May, and many parents are already saying they won’t send their young ‘uns back this spring.
Quebec officials are saying they will reopen society gradually and cautiously, running tests every week and backtracking if necessary. They have said it could take two years to get back to normal.
Or more if there is a second wave — which is expected.
So it’s a no-win situation in the short to medium term. People are going to suffer in myriad ways in Quebec and around the world.
Unless, of course, a vaccine is found that will cure COVID-19.
Know that a lot of people are working on it.
Find hope in their efforts.
The real question is whether some semblance of economic function can be maintained with masks and distancing and cleanliness holding the infection rate low enough that the hospitals are not overloaded. The elderly and compromised will have to self isolate with the cooperation of any companions.
What I think is that the transmissability and intensity of the disease caught public officials by surprise. It is tough to stop a disease that can be transmitted by asymptomatic carriers.
If we’d got onto it immediately when it broke out in Wuhan, there’s a chance it might not have gone crazy. But China sat on it for a month before doing anything about it. It appears the first “local transmission” death in CA was Feb.1st which means there were people infected here at least 2 weeks earlier and spreading it at that time.
Herd immunity requires that 3/4 of the herd be immune. By the time that happens you’ll have lost a percent or more of your population. Better prey for a vaccine or a successful antiviral.
See my comments below
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Chinese officials didn’t “sit on it”, even though trump wants us to believe it. They did notify the WHO as soon as they realized that they were looking at a new virus. It would have taken a few weeks, even in the U.S., to realize that this was a new virus.
(My wife is a biologist, and since she is working from home I get to eavesdrop on her conference calls where C-19 is discussed).
We will see some US States “opening for business as usual” in the next few weeks, and there will be a second wave of infections.
See my comments below
Herd immunity is working out great in Brazil. 😉 It’s also what Sweden is doing. At this time, it has around the same number of deaths as Canada with fewer than half the number of cases, meaning more people are dying. At the same time, the lockdown can’t go on forever. I hope it works out for Quebec. There are people I care about there.
Still not into the “elderly shelter in place” approach. It’s hard on active elderly people, and on their sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, etc. I haven’t seen my mother in over a month now (she lives in her own home) and will probably have to miss her 81st birthday. She isn’t getting any younger. If the best we can do is “make the elderly stay inside,” we’re failing at controlling this thing (and as a society). Along the same lines, I was talking to my partner about the restriction around not allowing family to be present when someone passes away, locking family out of long-term care homes, etc. I think there has to be a middle ground somewhere that sees more than science and numbers. Also, fewer of these restrictive measures would have been necessary if our health care system wasn’t so badly underfunded. Something to discuss after this shitstorm has passed.
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See my comments below. Didn’t realize on first reading that you were being sarcastic when you said herd immunity was working out in Sweden.
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China did indeed sit on it. The doctor who tried first tried to make it public was arrested and forced (physically or otherwise) to recant. They sat on it for about a month.
Sweden was a lesion what NOT to do. Norway, literally next door, with similar culture and climate, came down early and hard with restrictions. Sweden was lax. Sweden has had FIVE TIMES the deaths per million. Restrictions work. (I’ve sent the data to LaJ, perhaps she can reproduce it here, I can’t upload it into a comment.)
BTW, the Prime Minister of the UK was also big on “let natural herd immunity take care of it,” until he ended up in hospital with it.
An economy “tanking” is relative. A poor economy hurts people, but at least in the rich world, doesn’t kill them, we have the resources to make sure no one starves. Until the restrictions literally destroy the world economy, and we are far from that point yet, we will recover economically. Dead people don’t recover.
Regardless, the death rate is not 5-10% in the general population. Best early estimates were 2.5-5% – worse than the flu, but not massively worse. Since we still don’t have good data on how many people in the general did get it and recover (although Germany and Iceland are getting some good numbers through mass testing), it seems like at least 2-3 time as many had it than we thought, which means the death rate is 2-3 times LOWER than we’d thought. Again, with the proviso that younger people do much better than old people.
That having been said, much I find it odd to say the Quebec Govt did things right, they did things right. Initially just didn’t know how deadly, imposed restrictions to stop or slow the spread. Redeployed health resources as much as possible where needed. Now that we have better data the spread, and now that the spread is slowing, can relax the restrictions. Because young people are highly resistant to it, then it makes as much sense as not to let them return to school. I say this with some fear, as I have very young kids, but I do say to do it.
Vaccine? We’re trying to develop one against something no one had ever heard of until a few months ago. A year or two would be amazing to do it, and we just might be able to. However, remember that after 40+ years, we still don’t have an AIDS vaccine, and after 100? years, we still don’t have a malaria vaccine. Covid-19 seems to be a simpler problem technically (not my field of expertise), but still 1-2 years would be amazing.
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Lets Google Asian Flu 1957. Look at how many people died, about 70k in the US. Now more than double that for population growth. We’ve been down this road before but I guess institutional memory is weak.
Never mind the 1918 flue. We know what works and what doesn’t. And people are going to die regardless of what we do. All we can do at this point is pick the route that minimizes casualties.
There will be a trade off between economic losses and human losses. Fixing that point is what the argument is about.