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

Article Image

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.

Terre Haute
Clear
47° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 47°
Robinson
Clear
43° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 43°
Indianapolis
Clear
50° wxIcon
Hi: 67° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 50°
Rockville
Clear
49° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 49°
Casey
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 57°
Brazil
Clear
47° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 47°
Marshall
Clear
47° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 47°
Clear & Cool
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Cases: 1605320

Reported Deaths: 27132
CountyCasesDeaths
Cook61354910964
DuPage1039171357
Will873121089
Lake771121060
Kane65888850
Winnebago39007544
Madison38143576
St. Clair35003569
McHenry33032316
Peoria25972362
Champaign25862182
Sangamon24588271
McLean21879207
Tazewell19736326
Rock Island17806344
Kankakee16784234
Kendall15459106
LaSalle14496275
Macon14478240
Vermilion13234189
Adams12695148
DeKalb11667128
Williamson11419157
Whiteside7897176
Jackson769188
Boone760082
Coles7341112
Ogle713486
Grundy701281
Franklin686899
Clinton681498
Knox6651164
Marion6547138
Macoupin646399
Henry620474
Jefferson6060132
Effingham604382
Livingston571295
Woodford554291
Stephenson546289
Randolph529297
Monroe508199
Christian491780
Fulton487970
Morgan487296
Logan477474
Montgomery467476
Lee458156
Bureau427188
Perry415171
Saline409263
Fayette398956
Iroquois394673
McDonough354956
Jersey322253
Shelby311843
Douglas306636
Crawford304130
Lawrence301131
Union296747
Wayne274057
White265930
Richland262054
Hancock256334
Pike255956
Cass250928
Clark250738
Bond244024
Clay240047
Ford235256
Edgar234744
Carroll225437
Warren224960
Johnson213524
Moultrie211831
Jo Daviess206126
Washington206127
Wabash200915
Greene200739
Mason199351
Massac198144
De Witt195530
Piatt190814
Mercer190634
Cumberland178325
Menard158612
Jasper152418
Marshall134721
Hamilton128821
Brown10178
Pulaski98311
Schuyler9688
Edwards96315
Stark76827
Gallatin7435
Scott6975
Alexander67611
Henderson65114
Calhoun6442
Hardin56013
Putnam5444
Pope4815
Unassigned1882432
Out of IL40

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Cases: 941120

Reported Deaths: 15315
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1282511983
Lake633041097
Allen53609758
Hamilton43827447
St. Joseph41906590
Elkhart33545490
Vanderburgh30383448
Tippecanoe26820249
Johnson23609417
Hendricks22250341
Porter21737346
Clark17409229
Madison17366384
Vigo16108281
Monroe14466191
LaPorte14311239
Delaware14070221
Howard13865272
Kosciusko11418135
Hancock10841165
Warrick10674177
Bartholomew10542168
Floyd10430205
Wayne9959226
Grant9130204
Morgan8865160
Boone8389111
Dubois7710123
Dearborn762289
Henry7608130
Noble7413101
Marshall7362128
Cass7176117
Lawrence6957153
Shelby6584111
Jackson656785
Gibson6156107
Harrison603786
Huntington600195
Montgomery5805105
DeKalb574291
Knox5494104
Miami542488
Putnam536768
Clinton533665
Whitley524953
Steuben497268
Wabash483592
Jasper479160
Jefferson470092
Ripley454277
Adams444068
Daviess4169108
Scott405865
White391857
Clay390857
Greene388392
Decatur385296
Wells384983
Fayette374278
Posey359941
Jennings353156
Washington332047
LaGrange321375
Spencer317835
Fountain316555
Randolph312888
Sullivan307449
Owen283863
Starke280064
Fulton277553
Orange275859
Jay254837
Perry251652
Carroll243729
Franklin239338
Rush234130
Vermillion233250
Parke219820
Tipton209655
Pike207639
Blackford168334
Pulaski163551
Crawford146018
Newton144345
Benton142516
Brown135346
Martin128217
Switzerland125810
Warren114616
Union96911
Ohio79711
Unassigned0479