Opinion: The dangers of ‘letting Covid rip’

Despite the staggering number of new cases, Omicron seems, at least in the first reports, to cause significantly milder symptoms than previous variants, especially in the vaccinated and vaccinated.

These two novel aspects of Omicron – high transmissibility and mildness of symptoms – played out for me recently when my two adult sons contracted Covid-19 shortly after a big noisy wedding. After the diagnosis, I kept reading the reports about the mildness of the disease caused by the current variant, although as a specialist in infectious diseases I already knew the facts; after all, they were my sons. I also spoke to the many friends who had Covid-19 themselves during the Omicron surge to calm me down. And as a parent, I didn’t sleep much.

My sons, who were both fully vaccinated and boosted, had the usual symptoms: first a sore throat, then some fever, and then aches and pains and fatigue for several days. Most of them were back to themselves within a week. Certainly an uncomfortable week, but if it weren’t for the pandemic, it probably wouldn’t be bad enough to see a doctor.

In fact, they were doing so well (relatively) quickly that I wondered if it wouldn’t make more sense, from a public health perspective, if we just stop curbing the pace and scale of the pandemic and just let it rip. Once everyone got Covid and recovered, we could all be ourselves again, immune and carefree. Out with the masks, in with the face-to-face meetings. New York could be the Big Apple again!

After this initially exciting thought experiment, however, the dangers of the “let it rip” approach became apparent. Perhaps having sick sons had distorted my judgment. Opening the gate to more infections is a very terrible idea; even if it could temporarily improve Covid-19 statistics, it would leave a trail of individual tragedies.
First there are the sheer number of cases: the statistics on deaths and serious illnesses would become huge numbers if a million people were infected every day. Emergency rooms, many of which are already full to the brim, would be compounded with Omicron sufferers, making it even more difficult for people with other medical conditions to be seen quickly.

The hospital staff, already weakened by two years of pandemic, would come under even greater pressure again. Also, an illness that makes it difficult to work a week or two rips big holes in the workforce and turns routine issues into a daily challenge.

On the medical side, millions of people in the United States have weakened immune systems, whether from cancer or cancer treatments, drugs for conditions like lupus and similar diseases, or a host of other diseases. Their ability to produce an effective response to any virus is compromised, as is their ability to respond to a vaccine, making an uncontrolled virus a definite threat.
Also, because they have difficulty getting rid of the virus, it can linger in their bodies for months, potentially creating a greenhouse environment to encourage new varieties, each of which could be the next of high concern.
The parents of the youngest children are not doing well at the moment
There are other reasons to remain vigilant: We do not know the frequency of long-term Covid in people infected with Omicron and we do not know the rate of more recently identified consequences of acute Covid-19 infection such as type 1 diabetes.
After all, it is problematic when a virus roams wildly in a large part of the population. This will result in a lot more viruses circulating inside and out, which is never a good thing. A few decades ago, HIV researchers introduced the term “Community Virus Load” to describe how much virus there is and with it the likelihood of contracting it during a sexual encounter. The higher the viral load in the community, the higher the risk of the infection being transmitted.
Although HIV is an unrelated virus that is transmitted very differently from SARS-CoV-2, the point is the same. More circulating viruses, as would occur with a “just let it rip” approach, mean more chances of transmission and, with each new case, more changes for a subsequent mutation, which could lead to further increases and countless preventable deaths

Our current dilemma of resuming normal life while wave after wave of new variants hit us, gets to the heart of the differences between the illness of an individual like that of my sons – where the model is a patient, a doctor , one is problem, one cure – and the huge public health demands. There the consumer is not a patient, but an entire country, and the coin of the empire is a bulky, irreconcilable data set that is analyzed under the harsh gaze of often unreasonable politicians.

The truth is, public health officials can never give the right advice to everyone, so most of the time they settle for most people – an imperfect fit, especially at a time of dire need like a pandemic.

This inextricable tension between the needs of the person and the needs of the public did not bother Joseph Stalin at all; in fact, he took advantage of it. According to many, he observed that “one death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic” in order to hide his cruelty under a deluge of numbers and percentages. However, for people who care about humanity, this will never work.

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