What if we’re doing coronavirus prevention all wrong?

March 24th, 2020

As coronavirus started to become more of a serious concern in North America we were told to wash our hands and slow down the spread of infection through social distancing.

“Flatten the curve” became the catchphrase to mean prevent the virus from spreading so as not to overwhelm the capacity of the healthcare system.

Provincial governments started taking it seriously as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases suddenly jumped in early March. Schools were the first to be closed, sending children back home. Following that, parents were either working from home or laid off from their jobs as many businesses were ordered to shut their doors. Legal firms were considered to be “essential businesses” and have been permitted to remain open.

The size of acceptable social gatherings has diminished to two, and we aren’t done yet. Governments are still in talks about how to further prevent spreading the virus by urging people to stay inside.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been frequently quoted for telling Canadians during his March 23 address to the nation, “Enough is enough. Go home and stay home.”

But what if that is not the right approach?

The New York Times published an editorial titled “Is our fight against coronavirus worse than the disease?” in which Dr. David Katz of Yale University says governments should be taking a more targeted, or “surgical,” approach to stopping the spread of the virus.

Dr. Katz, who is a specialist in preventive medicine and public health, argues in favour of a herd immunity strategy. Instead of closing schools and sending kids home where potentially elderly parents and grandparents live, let those who have not been determined to be vulnerable still participate in the community.

“If we were to focus on the especially vulnerable, there would be resources to keep them at home, provide them with needed services and coronavirus testing, and direct our medical system to their early care,” Dr. Katz wrote. “I would favour proactive rather than reactive testing in this group, and early use of the most promising anti-viral drugs. This cannot be done under current policies, as we spread our relatively few test kits across the expanse of a whole population, made all the more anxious because society has shut down.”

Dr. Katz does not recommend gathering in large groups like sporting events and concerts, but if resources were spent focusing on the smaller, vulnerable population then healthy people could go back to school and work. The majority of people who are not especially vulnerable to the virus would be exposed to it, and if infected, would very likely recover and gain natural immunity.

As it is now, intergenerational exposure is more likely due to more people staying home. Hospitals are being overwhelmed by non-serious cases demanding their attention, meanwhile, medical staff are also dealing with school and other service closures.

I understand many people may disagree, especially as governments are taking the advice of other reputable health experts, who are also treading through unchartered waters.

In praise of Dr. Katz’s article, Thomas L. Friedman wrote a follow-up op-ed where he reminded us of the dangers of “group think.” Wide-reaching decisions are being made in response to a global crisis. The fallout of these decisions affects us all, and we need to seriously ask ourselves if we are making the right ones.

I am not a health expert, but I am just as concerned as anybody else about coronavirus and its impact on our health and economy.

The goal should be to preserve the economy as best we can, while at the same time protecting those who are most vulnerable. Sacrificing the economy with only a hope of flattening the curve does not seem like the logical choice to me.

Now is not the time for emotionally motivated and fear-based decision making. All of us are living through unprecedented circumstances, including the experts and politicians who are promising to get us through this. For we, the public, despite our impetuous nature, we must approach each new development with logic and rationality.

No matter what, my wish is that we all stay safe as best we can.

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