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Wendy Heaton: Hope of herd immunity still a long way off

Other Voices
Wendy Heaton

Editor’s note: Jo Ann Rebane’s was submitted to The Union and Nevada County officials on April 21, upon release of the county’s stay-at-home order on April 16. The county updated its order April 27. The Union regrets the column was not updated to reflect those changes prior to publishing.

Jo Ann Rebane’s “Stay-at-home order a government overreach” opinion piece, published in the April 30 edition of The Union, piqued my curiosity. Not having read Nevada County’s “Stay at Home Order” in its entirety, I decided to do so.

Ms. Rebane asserted that golf courses, tennis courts, disc golf etc. are required to be closed. On April 30, I located the Stay at Home order at http://www.mynevadacounty.com. In the FAQ section, question #58 asks: “Am I allowed to golf or engage in other recreational sporting activities outside?” The answer is “Yes, if the proper precautions are taken.” This includes golf, provided social distancing measures are followed. Additionally, “… tennis, pickleball, basketball and volleyball courts may remain open for use by members of the same household only.”

Boat ramps can be open (some precautions apply) and people are free to stand-up paddleboard or kayak. People are also encouraged to get exercise by walking, running and bicycling. So, I can only assume that if golf courses, tennis courts and disc golf courses are not open to the public, it was at the discretion of the business owners of those facilities.

Navigating the fine line between saving as many lives as possible while mitigating harm to the economy is an exceptionally difficult task.

We can all agree that the current pandemic is a crisis of epic proportion not experienced in modern times. Navigating the fine line between saving as many lives as possible while mitigating harm to the economy is an exceptionally difficult task. This begs the question as to why the U.S. is in this position to begin with?

As of today, referencing the ncov2019.live dashboard, the U.S. has 33% of global cases, and 27% of the global death rate, though we are only 4.25% of the world population. Had the U.S. followed South Korea’s example, we might have been able to effectively contain the novel coronavirus; their economy is now fully operational and they have reported no new cases. South Korea achieved this because they responded clearly and decisively with an all-government approach (reference statista.com, 4/30/20), in which widespread testing was the cornerstone of their success.

By contrast, the U.S. federal government responded far too late, allowing the virus to proliferate unchecked, leaving each state to fend for itself. Worse, the lack of a centralized federal government strategy is forcing states to compete with each other to requisition testing supplies and PPE. Regaining the confidence of consumers and opening our economy requires testing at scale, the kind of thing a federal government approach is ideally suited to facilitating (e.g. by employing the use of the Defense Production Act).

Ms. Rebane also referenced Stanford University and USC antibody studies that indicate California’s population “may be close to establishing herd immunity.” This seemed to defy logic so I researched that as well. The article I read ran the headline, “Stanford study shows herd immunity a long way off” (ksbw.com, 4/21/20). The study estimates between 2.49 to 4.16% of people in Santa Clara County had been infected with COVID-19 by April 1, 2020, nowhere near the 70% needed to slow the transmission of a disease. As reported by nbcnews.com on 4/21/20, USC researchers similarly concluded that about 4% of Los Angeles County residents were infected with the virus; again, nowhere near the percentage required for herd immunity.

There are two ways to achieve herd immunity: a large proportion of the population either gets infected, or gets a protective vaccine. According to The Lancet, current data suggests the death rate for COVID-19 is 10 times higher than for the flu (for which there is a vaccine). Even if the same number of people ultimately gets infected with the novel coronavirus, spacing those infections over time will avoid overwhelming our health care system. This is the reason California’s governor mandated the stay-at-home order along with social distancing and other public health guidelines.

Is this government overreach? The failure of our federal government to respond to early warnings as to the severity of the pandemic put each governor in the unenviable position of having to choose between the health and safety of its citizens versus the health of their state’s economy.

Today California reported a 3.4% increase in death rate, compared to South Dakota’s 30.8% increase (ncov2019 dashboard).

Personally I feel safer living in California despite not being able to play tennis with my friends.

Wendy Heaton lives in Nevada City.


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