By Stephen Bryen
The COVID-19 novel coronavirus has caused few deaths than a standard flu epidemic, but it has hit certain communities very hard. The majority of the victims are old people, middle aged fat people, and people with previous medical conditions including heart, cancer, untreated high blood pressure and other compromising diseases and maladies.
For the most part young populations have been spared. A great example is the U.S. military. Of the 3,000 plus infections suffered in all branches of the military service, the two highest have been in the Navy and the National Guard.
The Navy operates in highly confined spaces and the two serious incidents involved the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier and the USS Kidd, an Arleigh Burke class destroyer. The Roosevelt was operating in east Asia; the Kidd in a drug operation in the Caribbean. Both those ships suffered a high infection rate.
The National Guard has nearly 40,000 men and women deployed around the United States mainly involved in tasks connected with coronavirus, including helping out at hard hit nursing homes where many of the regular employees either are already sick or are refusing to go to work. Therefore the infection rate among Guard troops is higher than for other military services, but not higher than the overall national rate (as far as we understand the national rate, as testing is not universal or even across the country, and many of the tests return a high rate of false negatives).
In any case, despite all the U.S. infections in the military, there has been only one death, a sailor from the Theodore Roosevelt, and that death is listed as caused by “complications” from the virus, which could mean that the sailor may have had other undisclosed or unknown medical problems.
What we can say with a high degree of certainty is that healthy people can get the virus, but the rate is quite low, and virtually no one in this category dies if they were generally health in the first place.
– For people age 10-19 who are healthy there is a 0.2 % death rate
– For people age 20-29 who are healthy there is a 0.2 % death rate
– For people age 30-39 who are healthy there is a 0.2 % death rate
– For people age 40-49 who are healthy there is a 0.4 % death rate
– For people age 50-59 who are healthy there is a 1.3 % death rate
– For people age 60-69 who are healthy there is a 3.6 % death rate
– For people age 70-79 who are healthy there is a 8 % death rate
– For people over 80 who are healthy there is about a 15-22 % death rate
(data from a Canadian doctor treating COVID-19 cases)
The gloomy picture is for those over 70, and to a lesser degree those over 60. It is gloomy because the death rate is considerably higher than for younger people. With the terrible scourge in nursing homes in Italy, the UK, the US and in some other countries, and deaths in some communities among older people where observance of virus restriction rules are flouted, altogether these manifestations tell us we would be far better off sorting out problems in these populations than restricting an entire country to rules that actually serve almost no discernible purpose.
In the US and UK for sure, and probably in Italy too, the nursing home crisis could have been far better handled. In Britain the National Health Service and the UK government decided to push people sick with the virus out of hospitals (or even not let them in) if they were in care homes. In New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the governors in those states ordered old people sick with the virus to stay in nursing homes. This led to tens of thousands of deaths that could have been prevented.
Some of the deaths in these facilities impacted staff who treated the ill. There is a case to be made that individuals who are infected multiple times are likely to get much sicker with the virus, then others. There is only notional evidence this is the case; not scientific proof. But the logic of so many nurses and care workers dying suggests multiple infections from sick people is the core issue.
Professor Isaac Ben Israel’s analysis of the COVID-19 epidemic around the world reveals a pattern, he says, that the virus itself has a half life, that the infection in a population peaks at around 40 days and starts declining at 70 days. This mathematical projection generally holds true, although there are some populations where people get multiple infections (a la nursing homes and other closed environments) which can extend the timetable.
There are others who say that the virus naturally mutates and peters out as it loses its core lethality of the spike protein in the virus. At least one mutation found in Arizona lends support to this argument. Exactly how long it would take for the virus to change itself into something less virulent remains an open question.
The President actually was right to propose hydroxychloroquine as a prophylactic treatment. The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons presents a frequently updated table of studies that report results of treating COVID-19 with the anti-malaria drugs chloroquine (CQ) and hydroxychloroquine. They report ” To date, the total number of reported patients treated with HCQ, with or without zinc and the widely used antibiotic azithromycin, is 2,333, writes AAPS, in observational data from China, France, South Korea, Algeria, and the U.S. Of these, 2,137 or 91.6 percent improved clinically. There were 63 deaths, all but 11 in a single retrospective report from the Veterans Administration where the patients were severely ill. ” If 91.6% improved, and these were all already sick people, then using the drug before sickness onsets makes great sense. Unfortunately, politicians and some physicians with an anti-Trump agenda or who lack any statistical basis for their assertions, have confused the public. As the Association reports: ” Peer-reviewed studies published from January through April 20, 2020, provide clear and convincing evidence that HCQ may be beneficial in COVID-19, especially when used early, states AAPS. Unfortunately, although it is perfectly legal to prescribe drugs for new indications not on the label, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended that CQ and HCQ should be used for COVID-19 only in hospitalized patients in the setting of a clinical study if available. Most states are making it difficult for physicians to prescribe or pharmacists to dispense these medications. “
In fact, politicians, physicians and the press have created an hysteria in the United States and in other countries that has worked havoc with important decisions about how to fight the virus. In short, politicians either are using the virus for political gain or, alternatively, they are scared to death to make decisions lifting strict quarantine rules, because they are afraid of a backlash if something “bad” happens.
The real answer to the COVID-19 epidemic is to protect the vulnerable part of the population and specific and troublesome hotspots, but to let the rest of the country go back to work immediately.
In simple terms this means protecting older people with special emphasis on the best methods for nursing homes and other senior citizen clusters. It means using prophylactic treatment for vulnerable citizens if they can tolerate the treatment. And it means isolating hotspots and working to resolve issues in those communities.
For older people who live at home or in senior living facilities (including assisted living), but who otherwise care for themselves, there is a need to continue self-isolation insofar as practicable until there is a virus cure. Meanwhile prophylactic drugs under a doctor’s care could lower the number of dangerous infections significantly.
Once there is an effective vaccine, these proposed safeguards for older or compromised people can be lifted. That is likely to be by next January, 2021 or earlier (depending on how some of the really promising research and testing goes).
Beyond the above suggestion, there is no logical reason to continue the lockdown that is breaking our society, killing the economy, eroding our Constitutional rights and creating unnecessary fear and anxiety.