A part-time college economics & finance instructor who began his career in banking, Chuck frequently writes on money & economics online.
A Call For Common Sense In Managing The Coronavirus Pandemic
The COVID-19 or Coronavirus has been the biggest event of the year 2020 and has forced many changes in our daily lives. While most people around the world, out of fear, willingly went along initially with major changes imposed by their governments to contain the pandemic, increasing numbers are now becoming frustrated by the continuing restrictions on their way of life as well as by the havoc the restrictions are wrecking on their economies. The lockdowns in many places have resulted in loss of income for people whose jobs can’t be done on a laptop in their living room, interruptions on their children’s education, lack of access to routine medical care and testing and the continuing mental and emotional stress people are being forced to endure.
It was in Great Barrington, a town nestled in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts and home to the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) a think tank, where on October 4th of this year Dr. Bhattacharya, a physician and economist at Stanford University Medical School, Dr. Martin Kulldorff, a biostatistician at Harvard Medical School and Dr. Sunetra Gupta a professor of epidemiology at Oxford University authored and released a short document known as the Great Barrington Declaration.
Full text of the one page Great Barrington Declaration can be found on the web at https://gbdeclaration.org/. It is currently available in English and 31 other languages.
The focus of the Declaration is on protecting the people most vulnerable to the fatal aspects of the disease while freeing the rest of the population to go about their lives thereby restoring normalcy to the economy and social life for the majority of the population which for most COVID-19 victims does not pose a serious threat to their life or health. It does recommend that everyone practice simple hygiene such as staying home when sick and washing their hands regularly. While frequently not followed, things like handwashing and staying home when sick have been common practices that have been practiced by generations for avoiding illnesses caused by bacteria or viruses.
What is Herd Immunity?
A major criticism of the Declaration by those favoring a continuation of lockdowns, is their reference to herd immunity.
In an interview in the October 24-25, 2002 weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal Doctors Bhattacharya and Kulldorff said that so called herd immunity is a technical term that describes the end stage of an epidemic or pandemic in which after a certain percent of the population has been infected and acquired immunity and it becomes increasingly difficult for the disease to spread since there are fewer people to infect and pass on the disease.
The three authors go to great pains to stress that Herd Immunity is scientific fact and not strategy to combat the virus. It is a naturally occurring event that happens once a certain percent of a population has become immune to a disease. Herd Immunity can occur when a certain percentage of a population has been infected and acquired immunity or if a vaccine is available and a similar percent of the population has been vaccinated. In both cases the virus or bacteria that cause the disease still exist in nature but widespread immunity in the population prevents them from quickly spreading through the population (some among the few who lack immunity can still become infected but the disease cannot easily be passed on due to the fact that most potential victims have immunity).
Herd Immunity vs Flattening the Curve
In the early days of the pandemic the term flattening the curve was used to justify the original lockdowns. In those days hospitals quickly filled with COVID patients and there was a fear that hospitals in many large cities would be overwhelmed with people sick with the virus.
Adding to the fears were models that predicted continued rapid spread of the virus which, at the time, was neither well known or understood by the medical profession. Lockdowns forcing citizens to self quarantine in their homes were an attempt to slow the spread of the disease to prevent hospitals in places like New York City from being overwhelmed.
Predictions based upon models are only as good as the quality of the data used in constructing the models. Unfortunately, the best data available at the start of the pandemic was not very accurate and it turned out that hospitals did not become overwhelmed.
Unfortunately, leaders in many U.S. states foreign foreign countries came to enjoy the media attention and power they were exercising over their citizens and many journalists concluded that fear mongering was a good way to advance their careers and ratings. As a result in many parts of the U.S. and world lockdowns and fear mongering journalism have changed from a short term response to the disease and are being accepted as a new normal by politicians and citizens traumatized by a fear mongering media.
Great Barrington Declaration Is A Call For Common Sense In Combating COVID
Both doctors said that one of the undesirable side effects of the lockdowns is the possibility of epidemics in the future with diseases like whooping cough (Pertussis), polio and others which have been nearly eradicated thanks to mass inoculation campaigns that for years have created a herd immunity due to vaccines given to young children. However, the lockdowns have prevented many young children from being vaccinated and if not corrected will result in large outbreaks of these diseases in the future.
The closing of medical facilities and concentrating medical resources almost exclusively on treating Coronavirus patients has also resulted in treatments for many people being put on hold along with postponement of routine exams and tests which would have allowed early treatment before the undiscovered ailments became serious and, in some cases fatal.
Other Negative Unintended Consequences Of Lockdowns
In addition to non-Coronavirus medical problems resulting from the lockdowns there have been a number of other serious problems as well.
The lockdowns have resulted in children not going to school and, in many cases, the online instruction provided by local public schools has been of poor quality. Young, grade school children, have been deprived of necessary social interaction with others which will harm the social development of many young children. There is a fear that the damage from this will be lasting.
Suicides, drug and alcohol abuse as well as domestic violence have all been on the rise as a result of the lockdowns.
Finally while educated and upper income professionals have only encountered the inconvenience of having to work from home with their incomes continuing, most working class people around the world have been forced to shelter in place in their homes without the benefits of a continuing paycheck and continuation of benefits like health insurance or, when allowed by their local leaders, have been forced to continue working in order for them and their families to survive. The result has been the unnecessary sheltering of many healthy professionals while depriving working class people of their incomes or, if allowed to work, forcing both those in this second group who are vulnerable to a fatal case of the disease along with those who are not. A more economic and practical solution would have been to direct scarce resources to those who need help and leave the remainder to move on with their work and lives. However, the media fear mongering scared a large portion of the population into seeking safety.
Lockdowns Pose A Greater Risk To Public Health Than COVID-19
While accused of being reckless and uncaring of public health by their detractors, the authors defend their stance by pointing out that the unintended consequences of the lockdown policies pose a far greater threat to public health than does COVID-19. It would have required far less financial expense and made more sense to devote resources to protecting the most vulnerable in the population than to shut down the entire economy.
Dr. Bhattacharya points out that in many of the poorer nations of the world the lockdown policies threaten total economic collapse leaving some 130 million people facing the possibility of starvation - a situation that is more deadly than COVID-19.
Freeing people from enforced lockdowns doesn’t mean they have to run out and become ill with Coronavirus. Instead it means first that we take steps to protect vulnerable loved ones as well as choose to help strangers who are vulnerable by contributing money, time or other resources to make it easier for them to shelter without having to worry about things like being able to afford to pay the rent, get medicine, groceries, etc.
Giving People Freedom To Choose Level Of Risk For Themselves
In the absence of forced lockdowns people would be free to choose how much risk they want to take. Individuals can choose to engage in activities requiring them to mingle in large crowds or choose to avoid situations where they are unable to socially distance. Choose to wash their hands or not. Choose to wear a mask or not.
Of course, freedom is not unlimited so if one’s job requires close contact with crowds the choice can be risking Coronavirus or finding another line of work. Working in industries like food service or in medical facilities the choice would be washing hands or leaving that line of work and the same with wearing a mask as employers, stores and other places of businesses have the option of choosing to require employees and patrons to wear a mask or not do business there.
Federal Micromanagement Of Crisis Is Both Impractical And Probably Unconstitutional
While President Trump has been providing leadership and helping governors and mayors with supplies and financial support he has been criticized, especially by his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, in the current Presidential campaign for not taking stronger measures such as mandating lockdowns and requiring everyone in the nation to wear masks.
This is ridiculous in a nation as large and varied as the United States. Masks are a good idea when traveling in a crowded bus in a city like New York but ridiculous for a person driving in a car on a road in the West where one can drive a hundred miles or more without seeing a building or another car let alone a person. Besides, if the former Vice President bothered to take a few minutes to check the Tenth Amendment in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights he would see:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
The founders of this nation went to great lengths to create barriers to prevent future leaders of the country from being able to consolidate power in the hands of a few which leads to tyranny. This is why President Trump has limited himself to exercising the Constitutional powers given to him and helped governors and mayors with funding and resources but not edicts that exceed his Constitutional authority.
Former Vice President Biden’s Criticisms And Proposals Are Impractical
In his campaign for the presidency Candidate Joe Biden is calling for a nationwide mask mandate and a nationwide plan to combat the virus. Such actions by the President would be both unconstitutional and impractical. The President doesn’t have the power to issue the edicts he appears to be calling for and even with Congressional support, which could take months, such actions would probably exceed the Federal Government’s authority especially now that there are five textualists on the Supreme Court who rule on the basis of what the Constitution and laws actually say rathather that what they want them to say.
Even if the President or Federal Government had the right to compel nationwide mask wearing and other actions that are reserved to the states by the Constitution it would be impractical.
So, while the President and Federal Government can assist state and local governments with researching and sharing information about the disease as well as providing money, and resources to deal with the pandemic it is up to the individual states and their people to decide how to best manage the pandemic within their borders.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Chuck Nugent
Chuck Nugent (author) from Tucson, Arizona on November 14, 2020:
Peggy - I'm sorry to hear about your niece's son. The virus can have some very severe side effects in some people as well as being fatal for some. People need to keep these in mind and take precautions. However, if everyone decided to lock themselves away for the duration the economy would collapse and we would all starve to death. I am reminded of the story or fable the author James Michener related in one of his books. In it an Englishman in the 1930s foresaw another war, worse than the first World War coming in Europe and decided to seek a safe haven. Figuring that most of the industrial world would be involved he decided the best place to sit out the coming war would be a remote island in the South Pacific. After some searching he found the perfect place - remote, abundant food and shelter and, being a remote part of the British Empire, they even spoke English. The island he chose was Guadalcanal which turned out to be the site of one of the worst battles in the Pacific Theater of World War II. Life is a risk and there are no guarantees so the best thing is to continually reassess and manage the risks we face as best we can. Thanks again for your comment.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 05, 2020:
It sounds as though we will have concerns over COVID for a long time to come. I feel sorry for the so-called "long haulers." My niece's 37-year-old son-in-law is one of them. After contracting the pandemic, he now has gastroparesis. It is incurable! He may have to live with a feeding tube the rest of his life. He also has lingering numbness on half of his face. His neurologists are blaming it as a side effect of COVID.
I never knew that a virus could cause those gastrointestinal problems. I looked up the Mayo Clinic website, and sure enough, that was the third thing that was listed.
Stay safe out there!
Chuck Nugent (author) from Tucson, Arizona on October 31, 2020:
For years we have been encouraged to get a flu shot every year as each year’s main flu strain tends to be new. I did read that having flu shots in the past can, for many people, reduce the severity of a case of the current flu for some people who haven’t had the current year’s flu shot. I also read an article that said most flu viruses are still in circulation (including the one that caused the famous 1918 pandemic). However, because so many people have either had these flus or had a flu shot help keep these old ones from spreading. Also, since there is no major testing of people with the flu, a number of those diagnosed as having the flu may be suffering from an older version. Thanks again for your comments.
Liz Westwood from UK on October 29, 2020:
I had heard that too. It sounds like this virus is going to be around for a while, but if its effect weakens over time, hopefully it won't be so damaging. In the UK, many are already encouraged to have the flu vaccine annually and I do recall having some jabs at several year intervals in the past.
Chuck Nugent (author) from Tucson, Arizona on October 29, 2020:
Peggy - thanks for your comments. I agree with you that masks can help limit the spread and I wear a mask in stores and other indoor places that either require or encourage the wearing of them. When I am around people, friends or strangers who are very worried about the virus I will put my mask on more out of courtesy than fear. The Declaration doesn't refer to masks but does recommend that people who are not in the vulnerable category take reasonable precautions to avoid the disease and this could include mask wearing in many places. My comments about masks at the end of the Hub were regarding the Constitutional issue of limitations of Federal power. My reading of the Tenth Amendment, as well as apparently the President's reading of it, is that the Federal Government does not have the authority under the Constitution to take charge of the response and force states and citizens to do things its way. The Federal Government can provide assistance, advice and recommendations but can't force states and local authorities or citizens to comply. In addition to being constitutionally dubious it is also impractical. Ordering people in large cities with dense populations like those in New York City or Chicago to wear masks when outside of their homes not only makes sense but also good policy. However, sparsely populated areas as found in much of the West as well as rural areas doesn’t make sense in most cases. Governors and mayors are in a better position to know what is needed than do officials in Washington. Thanks again and I do agree with the points you are making in your comment.
Chuck Nugent (author) from Tucson, Arizona on October 29, 2020:
Liz, thanks for your comments. I heard that there was a possibility of people getting COVID as second time. On the website where the Declaration is posted (I included a link to the website in the third paragraph of the Hub) is a link to a 30 minute or so video of the three doctors discussing COVID and at one point they bring up the fact that 3 people had been infected a second time along with 2 more cases a couple days before the interview. In the video Dr. Sunetra Gupta commented that it is possible and not uncommon for antibodies acquired from having been infected by a viral or bacterial disease or having been immunized by a vaccine to disappear over time. However, she went on to say that the immune system has other tools to defend with and will lessen the impact of a re-infection (according to the three doctors the five who have been re-infected are experiencing a much milder case of COVID than their original infections. I think that I have had the DPT (diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), and tetanus) immunization more than once and before they began combining those 3 I received the tetanus about every ten years which what was recommended. Thanks again for your comments.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 29, 2020:
According to medical experts, the simple wearing of masks could potentially save many thousands of lives. There is an old saying that goes something like this: A person's freedom to punch ends where the nose of another person begins. In other words, while the wearing of a mask may or may not help the person wearing it, it might save the life of another person. I would rather err on the side of safety. Wearing masks, when looked at it that way, is a loving and kind thing to do.
Liz Westwood from UK on October 29, 2020:
You make some interesting points. I had not heard of this declaration before. It was worrying news a few days ago to hear that those who had tested positive a few months ago were exhibiting falls in antibodies, suggesting that they could get COVID again in the future.