Opinion: White House's new Covid-19 strategy is madness

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Dr. Ashish Jha joins The Lead.

Posted: Oct 15, 2020 3:50 PM
Updated: Oct 15, 2020 3:50 PM

As if Donald Trump's irresponsibility was not already a national tragedy, the White House seems now to favor a controversial approach to Covid-19 that threatens to bring nothing less than mass suffering.

More than 216,000 Americans have already died. Yet on Tuesday, senior Trump administration officials said that they were receptive to pursuing "herd immunity," an approach touted by a group of scientists who have put out what they call the "Great Barrington Declaration." The idea is that the federal government should let the pandemic run its course until most of the population is infected and has ostensibly developed antibodies to ward off future infections. Typical estimates hold that 70% or more of the population would thereby become infected.

According to this idea, vulnerable groups would be targeted for "focused protection," for example, introducing extra precautions such as frequent Covid-19 testing to avoid infections of the elderly living in nursing homes. The rest of the population "should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal," according to the declaration.

This approach runs strongly against the overwhelming consensus of public health specialists, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The new Covid-19 approach would undoubtedly add massively to the suffering in the US in a very short period of time.

The idea that we should not try to control infections other than of vulnerable groups is based on a complete misunderstanding of the real choices facing the US -- or facing any country for that matter. The core mistake is the belief that the only alternative to an economic shutdown is to let the virus spread widely in the population. Instead, a set of basic public health measures is enough, as many other countries have shown, to control the spread of the virus. The proper measures include widespread testing, contact tracing, isolating of infected individuals, wearing face masks, physical distancing, and barring super-spreader events (like Trump rallies). South Korea has exemplified this policy approach, as have many of its neighbors in the Asia-Pacific region.

Sadly, this very basic information seems not to have reached the White House or been understood by it, even though experts already knew in April that the Asia-Pacific region was suppressing the pandemic through these public health measures, and without the need for comprehensive lockdowns (or with only brief lockdowns to give time to scale up the public health measures). By suppressing the virus, these countries have limited the economic fallout.

Indeed, according to the IMF's new report, China, which has broken the pandemic by means of public health control, will achieve positive growth of GDP 1.9% this year, compared with America's expected GDP decline of 4.3%. The Trump team is so obsessed with their anti-China propaganda that they utterly refused to learn from China's success in cutting transmission of the virus enabling an economic rebound. Trump and his team have also refused to learn from similar successes in Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea, all of which have very low transmission of the virus.

The herd immunity approach is a nightmare for four reasons:

First, according to a study published in The Lancet in late September, fewer than 10% of Americans have so far been infected with the novel coronavirus. Another 60% or so of Americans would likely become infected in a herd immunity strategy. That amounts to around 200 million additional cases of Covid-19 in the United States and countless deaths. This would obviously be wanton madness, since the pandemic can be controlled by low-cost and proven public health means.

Second, there would absolutely be no reliable way to protect vulnerable populations through "focused protection." Many older people do not live in nursing or retirement homes where protective measure can systematically be implemented. And as the CDC has alerted, there are vast numbers of vulnerable Americans who are not among the elderly, but who suffer from medical conditions as widespread as obesity, cancer, kidney disease, high blood pressure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and others. And in addition to people with prior health conditions, the CDC also points to other groups that need extra precautions: pregnant and breastfeeding women, people with disabilities, people with developmental and behavioral disorders, and others.

For a White House team that can't even properly protect its guests at a White House event, the notion that it could suddenly oversee the implementation of "focused protection" to vulnerable people spread throughout the country in the midst of an uncontrolled pandemic is a fantasy.

Third, the proponents of herd immunity seem to discount the fact that in addition to the acute and short term effects of Covid-19, there are also long-term disease consequences for many, ranging from the Covid-19 "brain fog" to long-lasting damage to many organ systems. The evidence continues to mount that Covid-19 is a frighteningly dangerous disease for many people who survive the infection and in ways that scientists are still coming to understand.

Fourth, it's especially ill-timed to let the pandemic run wild when the White House is touting a vaccine as being just around the corner. If a reliable and safe vaccine will soon be available to protect citizens, surely there is overwhelming reason not to become infected now, but rather to stay safe until the vaccine arrives.

Trump's utter ignorance has already resulted in unprecedented suffering, and the latest bad idea would gravely multiply the damage. If implemented, a herd immunity strategy might just be the most reckless action by the White House yet.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1462456

Reported Deaths: 20308
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion2005922494
Lake992001456
Allen903391005
Hamilton70705539
St. Joseph63078746
Elkhart48098622
Vanderburgh46217523
Tippecanoe42115330
Johnson37119516
Hendricks35078455
Porter33900460
Madison28036530
Clark25186321
Vigo24768341
LaPorte22894307
Monroe22201243
Howard21344372
Delaware20937363
Hancock18289217
Kosciusko17513199
Bartholomew17399212
Warrick16060212
Wayne15757296
Floyd15399252
Grant14898293
Morgan13934230
Boone13172136
Noble11421140
Dearborn11355112
Henry11312201
Shelby11231150
Marshall11041166
Dubois10782152
Jackson10174104
DeKalb9944128
Cass9942142
Lawrence9914219
Huntington9823139
Gibson9131125
Montgomery9005140
Knox8762124
Harrison8718111
Whitley844771
Steuben8340102
Jasper8069113
Putnam795197
Clinton792994
Miami7914133
Wabash7598138
Jefferson7551124
Ripley6993111
Adams6508101
Scott629086
Daviess6266127
White602379
Greene5913111
Clay587173
Wells5814120
Decatur5754118
Jennings572276
Fayette5657121
Posey529146
LaGrange512996
Randolph4925128
Washington482067
Owen480398
Fountain463579
Spencer438156
Starke434086
Sullivan432164
Fulton426790
Orange412682
Jay403964
Rush395736
Carroll371349
Franklin369850
Perry362155
Vermillion345062
Pike308945
Tipton307974
Parke305038
Pulaski266973
Blackford266755
Newton228359
Brown222654
Benton213321
Crawford211231
Switzerland189414
Martin181921
Warren169520
Union163619
Ohio119516
Unassigned0742

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 2403645

Reported Deaths: 30922
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin2596932036
Cuyahoga2572672998
Hamilton1666711699
Montgomery1103831586
Summit1066861382
Lucas895171149
Butler78647924
Stark747301383
Lorain62885783
Warren49934468
Mahoning49735909
Lake46850586
Clermont43541428
Delaware38876210
Trumbull38576748
Medina37611416
Licking36901401
Fairfield33848331
Greene32124416
Portage31381356
Clark30277440
Richland28251420
Wood27660289
Allen24372392
Miami22806389
Muskingum22298244
Columbiana22095399
Wayne21275354
Tuscarawas18847423
Erie18041221
Ashtabula17932338
Marion17503231
Scioto16553203
Ross16163249
Pickaway15536173
Hancock15251227
Geauga15244221
Lawrence13847186
Huron13399182
Union1329683
Belmont13255247
Jefferson12864257
Sandusky12770197
Athens11949106
Knox11511195
Seneca11454200
Ashland10795174
Darke10673196
Washington10564168
Auglaize10152141
Crawford9854175
Shelby9699155
Brown9400140
Fulton9235148
Guernsey9109115
Defiance9057134
Highland9035143
Logan8955141
Clinton8719121
Mercer8640111
Madison8568104
Preble8002160
Williams7848135
Putnam7731135
Ottawa7629120
Champaign7556112
Jackson7383114
Perry714598
Coshocton7043136
Morrow694580
Fayette662287
Hardin6219125
Pike617086
Gallia594989
Adams5779124
Van Wert5779120
Henry565592
Hocking5521103
Carroll4828100
Wyandot482289
Holmes4747161
Paulding401163
Meigs375071
Monroe299368
Noble279851
Harrison279461
Morgan276848
Vinton239845
Unassigned08
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