Ridiculous Assumption: Tragic Consequences

How can one ridiculous assumption lead to millions of irrational decisions.  It happened!  It’s still happening!  I’m talking about a pandemic, specifically, the global response to a seriously infectious virus known as SARS-CoV-2.  It causes a disease called COVID-19 or CV19 for short.

Tragically, more than 300,000 of our friends and family members have died from this virus in our country and millions more around the world.  Uncounted numbers of others have died because of how we have responded to this pandemic.  The disease especially hits the elderly and people with other health challenges that compromise their immune systems.  Thanks to the remarkable efforts of brilliant scientists working with modern medical technologies not possible even a few years ago, we now have two vaccines approved in the U.S. and four more undergoing testing.  We also have therapeutic interventions that offer hope for most people who become ill with this virus.

For many months, I’ve been biting my proverbial lip, resisting the urge to write my opinions about the way most government leaders in our country and around the world choose to manage this crisis.  I did write about specific issues such as Closed Schools: Be Careful What You Wish For, Masks in a Sarcasm Free Zone, How Do We Decide About Schools?, and The Belt Order (S).  My wife, some family members,  and a few friends suffered my rants which focused on consequences far beyond the closing of schools and the mandating of masks.

Finally, a few days after November 20, 2020, nine months after the global pandemic was declared, there was some sanity and some clarity.  In my email that morning was a link to an article published in Nature Communications describing a study of ten million residents of Wuhan, China who were screened for the virus after an excessive government controlled lockdown.  Almost two dozen scientists contributed to the research.  I downloaded it and saved it on my iPad for careful reading.

The Occupation Distribution of Asymptomatic Positive Cases in Wuhan, China from Post-lockdown SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acid screening in nearly ten million residents, Shiyi Cao, et al, Nature Communications, 20 November, 2020. 

One sentence in the research abstract grabbed my attention.

“There were no positive tests amongst 1,174 close contacts of asymptomatic cases.”

Let that sink in.  Not one person who was in contact with someone who tested positive but was not ill, ever caught the virus.  None!  Zero!  There was no asymptomatic spread detected in Wuhan.  If you weren’t sick, you did not spread the virus.

This should not surprise anyone who carefully considers how a virus, specifically how this virus, is spread.  People who are sick have elevated temperatures and they sneeze, cough, talk, breath, and touch, among other indiscretions.  They shed virus particles into the air and onto surfaces as well as the objects they contact.  Asymptomatic people are not sick and do not shed significant numbers of viruses into the environment.

Catching the disease comes down to two factors: viral load and susceptibility.  A person will become sick: 1) if a sufficient number of viruses enter their bodies, and 2) if their immune response is insufficient to prevent the virus from replicating and causing the illness.  Being around people who are healthy is not risky because they do not shed viruses in sufficient quantities to spread the disease.  This is true even if the person tests positive for the virus as demonstrated by this research.  Our testing thresholds are extremely sensitive which means that people can test positive, the virus is detected, while never becoming sick.  There are millions of people in the U.S. who have tested positive without becoming ill.

Jeffrey A. Tucker of the American Institute of Economic Research (AIER) published an article on November 22, 2020, Asymptomatic Spread Revisited – AIER, in which he addressed the absurd measures and restrictions taken for no good reasons because we assumed that asymptomatic spread was a thing.  It’s not a thing and most scientists understood this before the hysteria of COVID-19 overwhelmed us.  He quotes Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove of the World Health Organization back in June 2020, saying

“From the data we have, it still seems to be rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onward to a secondary individual.  It’s very rare.”  

The Wuhan study demonstrated it is not only rare, it does not happen at all.

Early in this crisis, government leaders were rightly concerned that a serious pandemic could overwhelm our hospitals and other health care facilities.  That happened in Italy.  It was already happening in some places in the U.S. like New York City.  They came up with a plan to shut down our country.  The lockdown was sold to us as “two weeks to flatten the curve.”  Historically, sick people were quarantined during epidemics to keep them from infecting healthy people who could go on with their normal lives.  This curve flattening strategy was an attempt to quarantine healthy people in order to delay the spread.  Lockdowns such as this don’t prevent illnesses from spreading, they delay the inevitable.  This was a purposeful effort to reduce the stress on our healthcare system, but there were other consequences.  Some argued the cure was worse than the disease.  I was one of those.  Many, including medical practitioners, have since joined the chorus.

Somehow, an assumption of asymptomatic spread took hold in the minds of governors and other officials who argued for continued lockdowns and isolation of healthy people in order to manage the course of the pandemic.  Schools were closed even when it was apparent that children and young adults were not susceptible to serious illness from this virus.  In fact, far more children die from seasonal influenza than from CV19.  Healthy working-aged individuals have a 99.995 percent chance of surviving if they become ill with this virus.  A majority of healthy adults who test positive don’t become ill.

Once the “curve flattening” ended, we should have opened up our schools and our economy.  I would argue that we never should have locked down in the first place, even for the two weeks, but that’s hindsight talking.  Instead, we should have protected the vulnerable people who suffered from so-called comorbidities and the elderly with compromised immune systems.  Everyone else could have gone to work, resumed their education, enjoyed entertainment and sports, gone out for dinner and theater, and just continued living their normal routines.  Anyone who became ill should have been isolated from others to limit the spread of the virus.  It still would have spread among the healthy population, just like colds and flu do every year.

The only people who should wear masks are physicians and health care professionals as well as the people who have the disease and for some reason must be around other people.  Cloth masks provide no protection and research has never shown any reason for healthy, asymptomatic people, to ever wear a mask, cloth, surgical, or N95, period!

We started with a bad assumption about the spread of this virus from people who are not sick.  Many bad decisions followed.  The consequences are far more devastating than the pandemic.

About DocStephens

Retired college professor of science and mathematics, academic administrator, and president (emeritus).
This entry was posted in health, Human Behavior, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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