The fatal flaw of the American Covid-19 response

The United States has surpassed 2 million official Covid-19 cases and a 115 thousand deaths. After three months of lockdown, the country has had enough and is reopening. Although it has achieved its initial goal of slowing the growth of the pandemic so that hospitals would not be overwhelmed, the battle has not been won. We’re not at the beginning of the end; we may not even be at the end of the beginning. If everyone in the world could go into complete isolation, the pandemic would be over in two weeks. Instead, it is passed from one person to the next in a tragic relay race. As long as a single person is shedding the SARS-CoV-2 virus and comes in contact with another person, the pandemic will continue. The pandemic in the US is not heading for extinction. We are not near herd immunity and R0 is not below one. By the most optimistic yet plausible scenario, 30 million people have already been infected and 200 million will never get it either by having some innate immunity or by avoiding it through sheltering or luck. However, that still leaves over 100 million who are susceptible of which about a million will die if they all catch it.

However, the lack of effectiveness of the response is not the fatal flaw. No, the fatal flaw is that the US Covid-19 response asks one set of citizens to sacrifice for the benefit of another set. The Covid-19 pandemic is a story of three groups of people. The fortunate third can work from home, and the lockdown is mostly just an inconvenience. They still get paychecks while supplies and food can be delivered to their homes. Sure it has been stressful and many of have forgone essential medical care but they can basically ride this out for as long as it takes. The second group who own or work in shuttered businesses have lost their income. The federal rescue package is keeping some of them afloat but that runs out in August. The choice they have is to reopen and risk getting infected or be hungry and homeless. Finally, the third group is working to allow the first group to remain in their homes. They are working on farms, food processing plants, and grocery stores. They are cutting lawns, fixing leaking pipes, and delivering goods. They are working in hospitals and nursing homes and taking care of the sick and the children of those who must work. They are also the ones who are most likely to get infected and spread it to their families or the people they are trying to take care of. They are dying so others may live.

A lockdown can only work in a society if the essential workers are adequately protected and those without incomes are supported. Each worker should have an N100 mask, be trained how to wear it and be tested weekly. People in nursing homes should be wearing hazmat suits. Everyone who loses income should be fully compensated. In a fair society, everyone should share the risks and the pain equally.

2 thoughts on “The fatal flaw of the American Covid-19 response

  1. There were 2 competing studies of COVID that came across my newsfeed (one reported on NPR, the other on arxiv ).

    One seemed to conclude that ‘lockdowns ‘ were basically unnecessary (except for closing schools ) –a paper with lead author Jan Brauner with contributions by people from Oxford, Harvard, and many more .. ‘the effectiveness and perceived burden of non-pharmaceutical interventions against COVID-19…’ (Posted june 2 on medarxiv) . It actually has a range of conclusions.

    The paper reported on NPR seemed to come to the opposite conclusion—said lockdowns were effective and neccesary.

    (My impression is China and other Asian countries like Vietnam used the lockdown approach and it may have mostly worked—but the governmental structure and culture of these nations is different than USA so something like that is harder to impleement here–though there certainly was a pretty stroing lockdown–alot of local businesses are closed. )

    I was downtown yesterday for a tourist visit to see the protests at the White House. Sort of noisy, not very large (a few 100 people–though apparently they had walked all the way down Georgia avenue from upper NW–closed the street down) but no property damage. 14th st business district looked to a large extent to be ‘business as usual’–bars and cafes were open. You wouldn’t even know there was any COVID, civil unrest, or ‘anthropogenic global warming’, apart from the fact that there were many more police cars than usual around. (My area had like 20 police cars go by at one time while i was walking home and again when i waited for the bus—which took an hour to come—i was too lazy to walk the 5-6 miles to the white house.)

    I’ve been trying to visualize the R0 (which is basically such a trivial idea one shouldn’t even have to think about it, but i do). I saw one report that said COVID follows pareto;’s law’—20% of the carriers are responsible for 80% of the cases. (Mosca also termed this ‘the iron law of oligarchy’).

    I think of it in terms of the Flory-Stockmayer theory of gelation or polymerization. What is the crticial threshold for interacting molecules to create a polymer with infinite length? (Charles DeLisi who was at NIH has a classic paper on this with regard to antibody-antigen interactions. Ends up with a very simple formula though i can’t derive it now. It also goes through a variety of formalisms—from random graph theory to a kinetic approach using master equations, and even statistical mechanics. R J Goldberg in 1950’s i think used the stat mech.maxEnt approach.)

    I hear there was another police shooting and burning fast food place down in Georgia. There are alot of people with little to do except sell cigarettes on the street.I do alot of my reading outside on the street (find myself a nice tree) so i am aware of this. It can be hazardous to be in exposed locations–but there are so many police around i sort of don’t worry about it.

    http://www.veritas.org has some ‘interesting’ discussion with 2 african american MIT faculty moderated by someone of apparently asian descent on ‘black lives matter’ (they basically come to the conclusion that it all comes down to the bible. Presumably one could replace the science curriculum with the bible).

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  2. Reblogged this on systems perestroika – Ă©minence grise and commented:
    “The Covid-19 pandemic is a story of three groups of people. The fortunate third can work from home, and the lockdown is mostly just an inconvenience. They still get paychecks while supplies and food can be delivered to their homes. Sure it has been stressful and many of have forgone essential medical care but they can basically ride this out for as long as it takes.”

    Like

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