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Is the US Headed for Herd Immunity to Coronavirus?

The Coronavirus pandemic is burning itself out, but the elderly are still at great risk.

By:  |  May 1, 2020  |    460 Words

(Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)

A renowned German epidemiologist is calling for an end to the lockdowns and urging a shift toward the herd immunity strategy. Meanwhile, antibody studies emerging show that 30 times more people are infected than officially reported.

Professor Alexander Kekulé, director of the Institute for Biosecurity in Halle and director of the Institute for Medical Microbiology at Martin Luther University, was one of the first experts to recommend screening travelers in January 2020. Now he thinks the dangers of a lockdown outweigh the risks associated with COVID-19.

He has urged the German government and other countries in a similar situation to reopen the economy, embracing the herd immunity approach of infecting the young while vigilantly protecting and isolating the sick and the elderly.

He recommends five simple rules of caution:

  • Don’t come too close to other people’s faces.
  • Wash your hands before touching your face and before meals.
  • Only embrace people with whom you want to exchange viruses.
  • Consider in-door public spaces to be contaminated.
  • Avoid contact with others if you have a cough or fever.

Stealth Infection

The change in attitude among epidemiologists is due not only to concerns over the damage a lockdown does to the economy but also to increasing confirmation of the suspicion that far more people are infected than confirmed.

Two recent studies in the United States suggest 15-80 times more people have been exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus than reported. In Chelsea, MA, the Massachusetts General Hospital tested random people on the street and found that 32% of the 200 people had antibodies for the Coronavirus, most of whom were asymptomatic. By contrast, only 2% of the city was reported as infected at the time of the test. This implies that the actual number of infected people is 15 times higher.

In Santa Clara, CA, Stanford University conducted a trial involving 3,300 citizens; they found that 1.5% of them were infected and adjusted up to 2.5-4.2% when accounting for demographics. This gives an infection rate between 30 and 85 times higher than reported. At the time of the study, the county had reported 1,094 cases of infection, and a total of 50 deaths. Based on the number of participants who had antibodies, however, the researchers judged it likely that between 48,000 and 81,000 infections was closer to the truth.

New York

Applying these numbers to the hardest-hit state, New York, gives a true infection rate between 19% and near 100% as of April 21, 2020. For New York City, it means at least 23% of the population is infected. The evidence is now pointing toward the epidemic rapidly burning itself out in New York.

Despite this good news from hotspot areas, COVID-19 is a ruthless killer for a small group of people. When the economy starts reopening, those at risk should still self-isolate to the highest degree possible until the pandemic recedes.

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