We may, unwittingly, be more infected than we think. That is the good news.
To explain: People with COVID either live or die. Those who survive – the so-called IGG positives- develop anti-bodies that make them immune to the strain. They are no longer infectious and therefore can mingle in the community and go to work. It is believed that if 60-70% of a community is IGG positive, COVID will die because there will not be enough bodies to host the virus. This is the concept of herd immunity which a number of leading institutions including the WHO believe may have merit but more studies are needed.
Reputable reports from Germany and the U.S. suggest that many countries are closer to herd immunity than they think.
A University of Bonn study in Heinsberg, the epicenter of COVID in Germany, found that 14% of the population tested positive for IGG with a death rate of only one-third of one percent.
A preliminary study at Stanford University found that as many as 81,000 people in Sta. Clara County could already be infected which is 85 times the official number; with no commensurate deaths.
A University of Southern California study reports that up to 442,000 people in its community could already be COVID positive which is 55 times the official figure of 8,000; again with no commensurate deaths.
A study by Massachusetts General Hospital found that 31.5% of a random sample size in the suburb of Chelsea had the COVID anti-bodies i.e. were IGG positive.
The studies were performed by reputable institutions in different countries. However, as always, their conclusions have been questioned for procedure, statistical significance and interpretation. Call it scientific one-upmanship.
If indeed empirically valid, the results show that, one, many counties including our own have been infected for a while; two, the mortality rates are within the norm of other viruses; three, the fear behind COVID19 is therefore unwarranted and, lastly, the social restrictions that have been imposed in countries like ours are largely disproportionate to the problem.
Many believe COVID has been around as early as the fall of 2019. China discovered its first case in mid-November of last year.
In the Philippines, anecdotal data in many but small samples show infection rates of up to 31% which is consistent with some of the above-mentioned studies.
Data from closely contained cruise ships, condominium communities and frontliners in RITM and Ospital Ng Sampaloc show high infection rates with zero or near zero deaths.
Singapore (population 5.7 million) has reported 15,000 infections and 14 deaths.
The novelty of the virus, the media paroxysm and Government policy responses have created a climate of fear which arguably has been more damaging than the virus itself. The post-trauma effect especially among the vulnerable has still to be measured. So too is the social impact of domestic violence, child abuse, mental illness and incidents like the random shooting of Cpl. Winston Ragos by a policeman.
Then there is the economic carnage, the millions out of work, the businesses destroyed, the lifetime of savings vanished, the trillions in Government assistance that will eventually have to be repaid by future generations.
The March 15 ECQ was warranted because we did not know any better. A serial killer was on the loose, exponentially multiplying and when that happens you cordon the area, overturn every stone and lock down every living thing. This we were told by China was the thing to do; and it was.
But now eight weeks into the manhunt is it still the right thing to do?
What if the killer is already in us but our immune system has done a better job than we think of overcoming it?
Why cluster bomb the country when the killer has grazed many but killed few? He is at best lightly armed or a poor shot. The collateral damage from the Government weaponry is worse than the killer’s victims.
What if the killer is a bogeyman, a fiction created by the DOH to frighten us?
What if the so-called experts are so invested in their power, their science, their rules and their egos that they cannot admit that it is time to release the Filipino from his bondage? These ‘experts” have been wrong before, why can they not be wrong now?
How do we determine how far we are into herd immunity?
One, Government should partner with the private sector to massively test and contact trace.
Two, we must test big but, more important, we must test smart. We should test in homogeneous clusters – high density Barangays, squatter areas, prisons – rather than at random. Closed models with no exogenous factors provide better statistics.
Three, we should do surveillance testing in communities rather than clinical tests in a hospital where the test groups are already sick and the outcomes are biased.
Four, the tests should be for anti-bodies rather than for the virus itself. The kits of choice are therefore the rapid tests rather than the PCR because they are cheaper, more rapidly deployed, produce quicker results and show for IGG immunity. PCRs are for the symptomatic.
Five, in the absence of adequate testing we should use total number of deaths rather than number of infections or number of COVID deaths as the basis for policy response. “COVID deaths” are a misleading indicator because they are subject to definition. For example which is correct, deaths “by” COVID or deaths “with” COVID where the virus is only one of the causes? Counting all deaths and matching them against historical norms is a more meaningful metric. It also enables us to better estimate our healthcare capacity for dealing with all illnesses not just COVID.
What are the policy implications of herd immunity?
One, it will reveal who among the infected can return to work without contaminating the community. As we move to the 60-70% herd immunity rate we can aggressively open the economy.
Two, we can dispense with the disruptive and artificial controls like checkpoints and passes. The freedom of movement will grease the economy.
Three, we can slowly and voluntarily open schools since kids are not virus susceptible. Like the measles some believe contamination in children has merit.
Four, encourage but not oblige the elderly and vulnerable to stay home. Trust them to behave safely and if they do not tough luck. The current proposed rules for seniors (and youngsters) are, by order of merit, laughable, illegal and unfair. They are indicative of the “science” that got us into this mess.
Five, ensure there is enough capacity in our health care system. For this reason large public gatherings should be discouraged to prevent any unexpected surge in cases.
We can never achieve 100% immunity nor deaths. The virus could mutate and return, we could get imported cases once travel is opened. However we can work with probabilities and manageable rates of infection and fatalities. Supermarkets accept a pilferage rate of 1-2% as the cost of doing business. Similarly, we must accept an infection and mortality rate that is within the norms for say flus or even road casualties.
The cost to achieve perfection is too economically expensive otherwise.