I am not locked down. I've flown on two airplanes and taken a dozen Amtrak trains and several subways since my state closed down. I hugged a new friend this afternoon, after bicycling across midtown Manhattan. People who know me as a health nut, a scientist and a researcher in life extension ask if there is a method in my madness.
Certainly, it is madness, defined as behavior that is not socially sanctioned. All my life, I've been drawn to the role of rebel. If everyone is arguing about whether to go north or south, I'll get up and walk to the west. When people ask me if I'm a Democrat or a Republican, I answer, "No". And I'm always looking for more unconventional ways to be unconventional.
But there's method, too.
Here's what I believe:
The idea of protecting ourselves from exposure to the virus is a fiction, a fool's errand. We can't do it. A recent survey in Silicon Valley found that 5% of the population had antibodies to the virus. A similar survey in New York found 15%.
This counts people who have gotten sick enough that their bodies have made a detectable level of antibodies. Many more people have encountered the virus and fought it off undetectably. And these numbers are doubling every week or so, so they're 3 or 4 weeks away from 100%. The entire population will be exposed, if we have not been already. The lockdown is leaky.
This should be no surprise. The difference between COVID19 and previous coronaviruses is not the death rate. New data show,in fact, that the death rate is comparable to seasonal flu. Rather it is that COVID transmits so easily and so rapidly. These half-measures that we're using are enough to slow but not to stop the spread of the virus.
- You've been within 6 feet of somebody in the supermarket who was within 6 feet of someone else who was within . . .
- You get a package in the mail that has been touched by a dozen hands before you open it.
- You had only one visitor this week, but where was she before she visited you, and where were the people who she was in contact with?
Exponential expansion is counter-intuitive.
Maybe you know the brain-teaser about the lily pads that start on June 1 with 1 pad and double each day, until the pond is full with pads on June 30.
_____Q: On what day is the pond half covered with lily pads?
_____A: June 29
In an exponential expansion, 5% means "unstoppable" and 15% means "almost complete".
Am I saying that quarantine and isolation are completely useless? No. But lockdown is only useful in the very early stages of an epidemic. By the time hundreds of people have the disease, it's bound to leak out. And quarantine makes sense, but only for people who are elderly or immune-compromised or otherwise vulnerable. We should be doing all we can to protect these vulnerable people, instead of taking half measures to try to separate everyone from everyone.
The fatality rate of COVID-19 is about 100 times smaller for people under 65 than people over 65.
A scientifically sane strategy is to lock down tight early on and gradually loosen up. A useless and very harmful strategy is the opposite: start late with loose restrictions; gradually tighten up as the situation gets worse. Close the barn door after the horse has split.
What we are doing in America is just this--starting late with loose rules and gradually adding face masks and more closures and limits on transportation. The damage done by our American strategy--damage to morale, to immunity, and even health--is maximized by this strategy, while the effect on the virus is almost nil. Slowing the spread, only. Not limiting its eventual reach.
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