The COVID pandemic is entering its third year and a political consensus is now forming – we have to live with this virus.
In spite of confusing and conflicting policies by our public officials, COVID has followed basic epidemiological trends of past pandemics – the bubonic plague, small pox, the influenza epidemic of 1918 and tuberculosis outbreaks. There is nothing new here. What follows are the most salient points:
1. COVID is a killer. There have been almost one million deaths in the United States, a number so high that the life span of Americans decreased by 1.5 years in 2020. Furthermore, many survivors have permanent heart, neurological and lung damage.
2. The vaccines are highly effective and have saved many lives. Medicines such as monoclonal antibodies and Remdesivir are curative in the proper settings. Unfortunately, some people still resist receiving the vaccine. One of my high-risk patients told me “COVID only has a 3% mortality.” I responded “Would you get on a plane that had only a 3% chance of crashing?” The patient got the vaccine.
3. It is virtually impossible to stop COVID from spreading. Social distancing, quarantines etc. may “flatten the curve,” but the volume under the curve (i.e. the total number of cases) will be the same. The epidemic ends when either herd immunity occurs or the vast majority of the population avails themselves to vaccines and treatments.
A recent study from Johns Hopkins reviewed almost 19,000 studies on the spread of the disease and concluded that only 24 studies had enough data to make an accurate analysis. It concluded “Specific NPI [non-pharmaceutical intervention] studies also find no broad-based evidence of noticeable effects on COVID-19 mortality.”
Conceptually this makes sense. Very few public health officials ever spoke about what is called “the incubation period” – the period of time in which an individual is infected but does not yet have symptoms. For COVID, this is two to seven days. This means infected individuals — who look and feel perfectly fine — are out in the public spreading the disease.
Furthermore, vaccinated individuals can still spread the disease. A vaccine does not prevent a person from being infected. Rather a vaccine stimulates the immune system so that when an infection occurs, it is not life-threatening. But these vaccinated individuals are still carrying the virus and spreading it to others. When the latest Omicron variant became prevalent in the United States, it spread rapidly in areas such as Boston and New York even though stringent anti-COVID protocols where in place. The overwhelming likelihood is that it was spread by asymptomatic but infected vaccinated individuals.
4. Masks are of dubious value. COVID is spread by the respiratory route. Virus particles and droplets of sputum still enter the air whether a person is wearing a mask or not. There is some evidence that wearing a tight mask may decrease the spread, but few people do this. Most people prefer comfortable loose fitting cloth masks. Even Dr. Fauci, in a rare moment of non-political lucidity, stated that the value of cloth masks was “symbolic.”
Forcing young children to wear masks at school is not beneficial. COVID is less lethal than the seasonal flu in young children. Many blue state governors, including our own Gov. Ned Lamont in Connecticut, have removed the mask mandate in school children even though the Centers for Disease Control has not yet done so. He is following the data: but not the scientific data, rather the polling data.
But I have to admit, before I was vaccinated, I scrupulously wore a mask and insisted my patients do the same. Three of my friends – fellow physicians – caught COVID from patients and had horrible deaths. I did not want to be the fourth – even though the analytical part of my brain considered my mask to be useless.
5. The wealthy are spared the ravages of the disease. During the Middle Ages when the bubonic plague occurred, it was obvious that the disease was spread in close-quarters although no one had a conceptual grasp of the germ theory. Thus, wealthy individuals retreated to their villas in the country.
In the 21st century, nothing has changed. The rich and powerful quickly quarantined themselves while the working class brought food and other essentials to their doors. Furthermore, the easy money policy of the Federal Reserve caused the stock market to boom so that the wealthy became even more wealthy while the working class barely got by.
How this will play out remains to be seen, but for now, people are weary of being pushed around by the police – who provide the muscle for the public health bureaucratic fatwas. But who would have predicted that the normally docile Canadians would have a trucker strike that has effectively shut down the capitol city of Ottawa and closed our border?
People have had it. The philosophy of red states such as Florida and Texas has spread across the country: “Get the vaccine. If you don’t want to get the vaccine, that’s fine. It’s a free country. But we are not living in seclusion to protect you. And we are not allowing you to prevent our children from enjoying their childhood while getting an education.”
Joseph Bentivegna MD is an ophthalmologist in Rocky Hill.