Bill Bridger: Social isolation results in fewer deaths
I would like to respond to Mr. Rebane’s Other Voices about COVID-19, isolation orders, and science. Mr. Rebane stated that COVID-19 is no more virulent than the flu and that no science exists to support enforcing social isolation. He disparages science in general.
In response to the pandemic, governments in the U.S. have ordered social isolation measures. Quarantining or isolating those with infectious diseases has been used for hundreds of years and has been proven to be effective. There are laws that allow our governments to enforce quarantine and isolation. Countries around the world have responded to the pandemic in different ways. Most have either recommended or enforced social isolation measures and mask-wearing. Some governments have advised no response.
The evidence shows that when an outbreak starts in a country, the sooner that isolation measures are started and the more strongly they are followed, the result is fewer infections and deaths. I base this primarily on articles and data from The Economist.
Isolating the infected from the noninfected does slow the spread of the disease and saves lives, at least so far. Some say this will not help in the long run, that the infection will spread until herd immunity is achieved and the same number will eventually die, with or without isolation measures. Certainly in places like New York, where outbreaks got out of control before isolation measures were started, people died who could have recovered. Slowing the spread of the disease gains time to possibly develop an effective antiviral treatment and/or vaccine. There is now speculation that a vaccine could be available by the end of this year. That has the potential to prevent a great number of deaths, as we are nowhere close to having herd immunity.
In the U.S. the 2018-19 influenza season is the most recent for which a scientific evaluation has been completed. During this period there were a little over 7,000 recorded deaths due to the flu. Scientists took this number and other information to run models and estimated that there were actually 34,200 deaths attributable to the flu. There have been over 107,000 recorded deaths due to COVID-19 from Feb. 29, 2020 to June 5, 2020. This number is still increasing. The excess deaths during this period have been much higher. After scientists have time to evaluate all the data, the deaths attributed to COVID-19 during this period will be much higher than 107,000. In addition, without the lockdown there would have been an even higher number of deaths. No one imposes lockdowns for influenza. The virulence of COVID-19 is many times higher than the flu. This information about flu and COVID-19 deaths is easily verified by Google searches and comes from government agencies and universities.
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COVID-19 is a highly virulent disease that has caused a lot of deaths. The lockdowns have saved lives, at least in the short term. The number of deaths is still only a tiny percentage of the population. The lockdowns here and around the world have seriously impacted the economy. People are worried and under stress; some are very angry. All of this has to be considered — and I believe has been — in deciding how to go forward. In this country, state and local governments have authority to make public health rules, not the federal government.
The country is very polarized about how to respond to this pandemic. Polls show that the majority of our population supports the measures that have been taken so far. They do this because they fear death and trust scientists more than politicians and business interests. A vocal minority encouraged by the president do not want any isolation measures and have been defying the law.
I accept that there can be legitimate differences of opinion. I have seen no evidence that the decisions to impose isolation measures have been based on fake news or advice from corrupt and/or incompetent scientists. Different epidemiologists can and do have different opinions. The majority of epidemiologists around the world have advised their governments to impose some form of social isolation measures and most governments have done that.
One can disagree with decisions to order social isolation, but it is wrong to say that there is no reason to do so. It is wrong for the president of this country to encourage people to defy legal state orders that he disagrees with. How divisive can one get?
Bill Bridger is a retired physician. He lives in Nevada City.
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