A Sensible and Compassionate Anti-COVID Strategy 10/9/20 by Jay Bhattacharya, Professor of Medicine at Stanford University. The following is a summarized version of an article that appeared in the October issue of Imprimus, a publication of Hillsdale College. The full article can be found at hillsdale.edu.
The COVID-19 Fatality Rate – In early March, the fatality rate was estimated at roughly three percent—I.e., three out of every hundred people who were identified as “cases” of COVID died from it. Today, we know the fatality rate is closer to 0.2 or 0.3 percent. The reason for the inaccurate early estimates is simple: in early March, we were not identifying most of the people who had been infected by COVID. The majority who are infected have very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. These people weren’t identified in the early days, which resulted in a highly misleading fatality rate that continues to drive public policy.
Last April, I ran a series of studies to see how many people in California’s Santa Clara County, where I live, had been infected. About 1,000 COVID cases had been identified, but our antibody tests found that 50,000 people had been infected—i.e., there were 50 times more infections than identified cases. This was enormously important, because it meant that the fatality rate was not three percent, but closer to 0.2 percent; not 30 in 1,000, but 2 in 1,000. —there are now 82 similar studies from around the world, and the median result of these 82 studies is a fatality rate of about 0.2 percent—exactly what we found.
Who Is at Risk? The single most important fact about COVID-19 is that it is not equally dangerous for everybody. There is a thousand-fold difference between the mortality rate in older people, 70 and up, and the mortality rate in children– for young children, this disease is less dangerous than the seasonal flu. This year, in the United States, more children have died from the seasonal flu than from COVID by a factor of two or three.
Whereas COVID is not deadly for children, for older people it is much more deadly than the seasonal flu. If you look at studies worldwide, the COVID fatality rate for people 70 and up is about four percent: 40 in 1,000 vs. 2 in 1,000 in the overall population — this huge difference in the danger of COVID to the young vs. the old is the most important fact about the virus. Yet it has not been sufficiently emphasized in public health policies.
Lockdowns and Where to Go from Here – Last week I met with two other epidemiologists—Dr. Sunetra Gupta of Oxford and Dr. Martin Kulldorff of Harvard – in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. The three of us come from very different parts of the political spectrum, yet we arrived at the same view: the widespread lockdown policy has been a devastating public health mistake. In response, we wrote and issued the Great Barrington Declaration, which can be viewed online at www.gbdeclaration.org. The Declaration includes the following points:
1) As public health scientists we have grave concerns that lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health —e.g., lower childhood vaccinations, fewer cancer screenings, etc., etc.
2) Keeping students out of school is a grave injustice. For children, COVID-19 is less dangerous than influenza.
3) Adopting measures to protect the vulnerable elderly should be the central aim, e.g., nursing homes should perform frequent testing of staff and visitors, retired people living at home should have groceries delivered, etc.
4) Everybody else should immediately resume life as normal with some additional hygiene measures, such as hand washing and staying home when sick. Schools and universities should be opened and extracurricular activities should be resumed, low-risk adults should go back to work and restaurants and other businesses should open. Arts, music, sports, and other cultural activities should resume.
To date, the Great Barrington Declaration has been signed by over 43,000 medical and public health scientists and medical practitioners. It does not represent a “fringe” view within the scientific community.
(A three-minute news show covering the above can be found at: /www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8CbDCjYsxE&t=83s )