10.15.2020 0

Is herd immunity the key to opening schools and economy?

Controversial Covid declaration sparks heated debate over lockdowns

By Catherine Mortensen

As students close in on the first quarter of the school year, frustrated parents want to know when their students will return to school. Daily they are taking to social media to vent and seek answers. Here are two recent postings on a private Facebook group dedicated to reopening schools in Fairfax County, Virginia:

“How can high school football players practice when children cannot go to school? Are they offering other extracurricular activities like band and drama?”

“I don’t know why so many schools will not get creative with reopening. My kids in private school have been in-person since September. The school got creative to make it happen with restrictions. It’s the teacher’s unions that continue to make a fuss, and their blunt shut down solutions ignore the negative consequences to the kids. The schools can make it work and keep the kids in school—they just need to be flexible and creative.”

Into this emotionally charged environment comes a new declaration  signed by more than 34,000 medical doctors and health scientists from around the world opposing  lockdowns to  curb the spread of COVID-19. The Great Barrington Declaration states the measures are causing “irreparable damage” to the economy and to the futures of students who are falling behind.

Instead of shutting everything down until a vaccine is available, these doctors say focus should be on minimizing mortality and social harm until herd immunity is reached. Herd immunity refers to when enough of the population becomes immune to an infectious disease to beat it, which the doctors say will eventually be reached for all populations, and can be assisted by, but not dependent upon, a vaccine.

“The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk,” the declaration states.

The scientists met last week with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who later tweeted about the meeting: “We heard strong reinforcement of the Trump Administration’s strategy of aggressively protecting the vulnerable while opening schools and the workplace.”

But the Director of the National Institutes of Health Francis Collins has denounced “focused protection” as “fringe” and “dangerous” without offering any productive pathways forward to getting our kids back to school.

As parents try to make sense of these vastly divergent views, New York City may provide insights. In 2020, an estimated 1 in every 4 residents of New York City have contracted Covid since the beginning of the year, or close to 2.1 million according to data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation(IHME) tracking estimated infections statewide combined with the confirmed number of Covid cases in the state, 53 percent of which were in the city.

IHME also projects that New York’s peak in cases this cold and flu season will be in January and will be 85 percent lower than in March when cases peaked. Why?

A recent report in the New York Times raises the possibility that New York City may be on its way to approaching herd immunity. “I’m quite prepared to believe that there are pockets in New York City and London which have substantial immunity,” said Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told the Times, adding, “What happens this winter will reflect that.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio opened public schools for in-person learning earlier this month. At the end of the first week, out of nearly 2 million students and teachers there were 305 Covid cases. That is an infection rate under 1 percent. “We’re not seeing any unusual number of students or staff anywhere in the city testing positive,” de Blasio said on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer.

De Blasio added, “What I think is fair is the school environment has been made extremely safe, and I thank you and all educators and everyone in the schools, because with the social distancing, the face mask wearing by everyone, the cleaning, everything has been working in the schools.”

Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning said, “People are rightly concerned about their children’s health, but rather than harming all kids through school shutdowns, school districts across the nation should allow parents to choose whether their children are ready to re-enter the classroom or not.  Parents know if their kids are thriving in the online learning environment and should be empowered to make this critical choice for the future of their own kids, rather than having it dictated to them.  The COVID crisis has created unique challenges and it is time for school districts as well as state and local governments to engage in creative flexibility so that we can move forward while recognizing the dangers inherent for particularly vulnerable populations.”

While many on the left like to use the refrain, “follow the science,” it seems they only want to follow the science that fits with their political agenda. In this case, more than 34,000 medical experts are calling for an end to the lockdowns, but the left is choosing to ignore the science. They do so at the peril of our students and our larger economy. And if the vaccine does not work, herd immunity may be the best we can hope for.

Catherine Mortensen is vice president of communications for Americans for Limited Government.

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