September 28, 2020

In Sickness and in Heat

Spectator
By Stephen Tuttle | Sept. 5, 2020

So, now it's “herd immunity.” That seems to be the latest Trump Administration COVID-19 strategy. At least the steps they're now taking are pushing in that direction.

Their reluctance to recommend masks and social distancing, their insistence on in-person teaching for schools, their ongoing efforts for states to fully reopen, and now, an effort to restrict testing to only people who have symptoms. All of that helps lead to more infected people, which would, eventually, lead to herd immunity.

The recent addition of Dr. Scott Atlas to the novel coronavirus task force is more evidence of their intent. Dr. Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no background or experience in epidemiology or infectious diseases, has some disdain for the efficacy of masks and has suggested herd immunity as a solution.

Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of the population has developed virus anti-bodies, either by being infected or receiving an effective vaccine, so the spread slows and ultimately stops. With few people left to infect, there's nowhere for it to spread.  

Different diseases require different levels of herd immunity. Measles, one of the most communicable of all maladies, requires nearly 95 percent herd immunity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Most seasonal flu requires about 60 percent.

There is no consensus on COVID-19. Some believe herd immunity could be reached with an infection/vaccination rate as low as 20 percent. Others believe, because of the high number of asymptomatic carriers, 80 percent will be necessary. Whatever, the numbers become breathtaking.  

Let's split the difference and say 50 percent. That would mean 165.5 million infected Americans. Since about 20 percent of infected patients require hospitalization, that would mean a nightmarish 66.2 million patients. That's about twice the number of Americans hospitalized annually. We don't have nearly enough hospital space or medical personnel for anything vaguely close to that. 

Then there are the deaths. With the death rate leveling off at around 1 percent, 1.65 million patients would die, nearly three times the fatalities in the 1918 flu pandemic. 

Sweden tried a modified version of this, and it simply has not worked. No mask mandates, no social distancing, and almost nothing closed. The result was an infection rate 10 times that of their more restrictive neighbors Norway, Finland, and Denmark combined. They've had four times the fatalities of their combined neighbors and have a per capita fatality rate akin to that of Italy. And herd immunity didn't help their economy because so many people got sick and couldn't work. It wouldn't help ours, either. In fact, it would crush our healthcare system; 34 million typical annual hospitalizations plus 65 million or so COVID-19 hospitalizations? It isn't remotely reasonable.

Herd immunity will only work when there is a safe, effective vaccine administered in sufficient numbers to willing people. Allowing the novel coronavirus to spread intentionally will cripple the economy, the healthcare system, and the country. We don't have enough hospitals or cemeteries. It's a deadly bad idea. 

                                                                     *

Time for a brief check on that pesky climate change “hoax.”

The Greenland ice sheet had a terrible 2019. According to the National Snow and Data Center, Greenland lost a whopping 586 billion tons of ice last year, about four times more than average. 

Antarctica is melting, too, ably abetted by warmer seawater undercutting every floating ice shelf. The continent had a day this year when the temperature reached nearly 65 F.

According to the World Glacier Monitoring Service, glaciers in 30 countries continue receding approximately .6 to 1.0 mile annually, a dramatic increase in the last 50 years.

Average daily temperatures have increased about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit in the last century with most of that increase occurring since 1970. According to Climate.gov, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2019 was the second hottest year ever, only slightly cooler than 2016. In fact, 9 of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 2005, with 1998 as the only outlier in the 20th Century.

Already hot Phoenix just recorded its hottest July ever, with a daily 24-hour average of 99. It’s had 34 days of temperatures reaching at least 110 degrees and 25 when the overnight low never dipped below 90, both also records.

Permafrost above the Arctic Circle has begun melting — one Siberian town that far north had a temperature of 100 F this summer — releasing methane and who knows what else that has been frozen for millennia.    

We have twice as many wildfires burning four times more area and costing five times more than they did a half-century ago. California has had 7,200 wildfires this year burning 1.6 million acres.    

Maybe it's all just a natural cycle of quirky weather. Scientists don't think so, but some of us quit listening to them nearly four years ago.

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