As we move further and further along into this pandemic, one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me: I’ve been right all along about this disease.
I’ll admit that, in the beginning, I was afraid to talk too much about it. More specifically, I was concerned about expressing controversial opinions—even if they were grounded in both science and medicine.
Instead, I chose to keep a low profile with my “outrageous” beliefs. But if you’re a regular reader, then you know that I have been more forthcoming with my stance in the recent weeks.
But today’s discussion may surprise you. So, here goes…
In the early days of this pandemic, all anyone ever talked about was how to “flatten the curve” to avoid the coming surge in hospitalizations. And at this point, if I never hear that phrase again, it will be too soon.
Nevertheless, I get it. We had to shut everything down and keep people at home if we were going to slow the spread of coronavirus and keep our healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed.
The good news? It looks like those drastic measures worked.
The curve has flattened. We didn’t run out of ventilators or ICU beds in U.S. hospitals—no one who needed care had to be turned away. And we have our healthcare workers and the American public (most of them, anyway) to thank for it.
But now, here comes my wacky thought: This is a respiratory virus—an especially infectious one. So, just like colds and the flu, can’t we realistically expect that just about everyone will get it, at some point, eventually?
While that might seem absurd, especially given the panic over this illness’s spread, it’s worth thinking about. As I’ve explained here before, it’s a novel virus to humans and none of us have any immunity. And because many who do have it are asymptomatic, rapid spread seems all but inevitable.
Eventually, this would lead to “herd immunity.” In other words, the more people who get it, the more people become immune—making it harder for the virus to continue to spread.
Months ago, one person who had COVID-19 would go on to infect three more people. But if two of those three people were immune to the virus, well… to put it simply, the virus can’t spread.
And then what? Does it just go away?
Stepping out into the future
I’ve talked a bit about this concept before—and needless to say, it’s a little more complicated than you may think.
You may recall that New York City’s immunity was estimated to be somewhere around 25 percent—easily the highest rate of any area in the whole country. And unfortunately, we’d need at least 65 to 70 percent of the population to be immune to COVID-19 before this crisis can really be considered over.
Sure, we could wait it out for a “safe” vaccine—but who really knows how long that will take? Or we could keep waiting for new drug trials… or a test that actually tells us something beneficial.
But these are all developments that may take months, if not years, to really get any traction.
So I’ll just come out and say it: If we need herd immunity to protect the population, doesn’t it make some degree of sense to move toward that goal as quickly as possible without overwhelming our healthcare system in a way that would lead to excess deaths?
It’s a tough balance to strike, that’s for sure. Because it’s not just hospital surges that shutdowns help to protect against—they also buy us time to research new ways to manage this disease. (We’ve learned enough in the last few months alone that anyone who gets sick now is already better off than they were in March.)
It’s also true that herd immunity doesn’t necessarily guarantee an end to outbreaks. It only guarantees that the spread will slow down. And a faster end to this doesn’t even necessarily mean fewer casualties.
So… where do we go from here?
No, we can’t just keep the world shut down indefinitely. But I do think we should celebrate our victories against COVID-19—which have been significant, despite a news cycle that was, at times, truly harrowing. And then, we should give ourselves permission to move bravely and cautiously forward into the future.
We have made a lot of progress in this fight. And it’s time to start living again—whatever that means for you.
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“If We All Get COVID Anyway, Should We Just Get It Over With?” Medscape Medical News, 06/22/2020. (medscape.com/viewarticle/931474)