The COVID-19 epidemic is winding down, or is it?

By Kevin Roche

I can tell people just want this to be over.  The new administration and its co-conspirators among the state governments have every incentive to minimize the epidemic and be able to claim victory, so death counters are gone and the level of hysteria has been amped down to Defcon -46.  The virus, however, doesn’t care, and as viruses will, it is going to do its best to achieve its life mission–replicate.  And we are doing things that make that mission a little easier.  Trying so hard to suppress CV-19 gives an advantage to mutations that can evade the suppression attempts.  Isolating people lessens their normal exposure to pathogens and lessens their general immune defenses.  This is a particular problem with younger children, whose immune systems are just developing and who need regular contact with bacteria and viruses to help build adaptive and innate immunity to protect against all kinds of diseases.  One unintended consequence of the suppression campaign could be to make children more vulnerable both to other strains of coronavirus and to pathogens of all kinds.  Nice work, public health experts.  Thought you were supposed to be concerned with overall public health?

woman holding a poster with anxiety
Photo by cottonbro

All those suppression efforts make vaccines’ task much harder as well.  We have to hope that sufficient segments were targeted to prompt development of a range of antibody and T cell defenses so that mutations can’t easily evade the adaptive immune response created by vaccination.  And no matter what, we are not going to eliminate CV-19, its cousins or its successors.  So my biggest concern is a failure to accept that basic fact and get on with life while dealing with the threat in the same manner that we handle many other health concerns–don’t panic, do the best we can, but be cognizant of all the consequences of actions.  But the new administration has already signaled that it is going to create a variety of “crises” that will justify ever-growing government dictates about how we live.  And some governors, including ours here in Minnesota, definitely have fallen in love with their “emergency” powers and plan to use those as long as they can.

At what point are people finally going to rise up and say “enough”? Especially when they can look at states like Florida and see that we don’t need to engage in extreme restrictions to reach the same outcomes, without the incredible damage we are doing to children in particular. One thing I have learned from the epidemic and the response to it is that we have large numbers of young people in particular who just swallow government and media bullshit wholesale and say “ummm, that tastes good”. No ability to question what they are hearing, no willingness to actually go get data and analyze it themselves, no openness to alternative perspectives that might actually be more accurate, and most importantly, no ability to assess risk and do a comprehensive balancing of harms and benefits. Just, “whatever you say, sir”, happy to do it and stomp on anyone who disagrees. Doesn’t bode well for the future, because a government and a media establishment that isn’t regularly challenged, creates and lives by lies, suppressing the truth, but reality is truth and always wins in the end. A government of lies means misery for everyone, because you never triangulate on or spiral upward to the best policies to improve peoples’ lives, on the contrary, you spiral everyone downward, downward, downward. But at least we all live equally miserable lives, so there is some “equity” for you.

The reality of the epidemic, notwithstanding Dr. Osterholm, is that cases and mortality have begun winding down almost everywhere. Enough people have been infected, been vaccinated, or have pre-existing immune defenses so that transmission is slowed. And, whatever the niche of the right environmental conditions for CV-19 spread is, it appears to be ending in most places in the US. I would anticipate that we won’t see large future waves as we have in the past year. But cases are not going to zero, especially not if we keep doing ridiculous testing in low prevalence environments. Doing so just creates very large numbers of false and low positives.

Minnesota has between 5,000 and 10,000 active cases now, at most, even if you believe we are not detecting all cases. That is a miniscule prevalence, around one-tenth of a percent.  If you were doing general testing in the population or a sub-population, with no reason to test the people being tested, i.e., no symptoms, no close contacts with infected persons, you are going to have at least a 50% false positive rate, potentially higher. So we can keep scaring ourselves by doing stupid testing or we can return to a rationale testing policy of only people with symptoms or who have had contact with an infectious person, and we can use a threshold for a positive PCR test that actually is associated with infectiousness, 30 cycles or less.

It is our choice, force governments to allow a full return to normality, whatever that was, or continue to be governed as though we live in China, Russia, Iran, Nazi Germany or other epitomes of authoritarian dictatorship.