The now-occasional Minnesota daily briefings follow a pretty predictable course–a few numbers and then some scary misinformation designed to keep us all frightened, to what end I am not sure. Yesterday the officials assured us that they follow the research closely (they don’t) and that one thing they were concerned about was pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic transmission. Most studies have found a limited role for asymptomatic transmission or even presymptomatic, so that isn’t quite accurate. People who truly don’t have a symptom don’t seem to be a major factor in spreading the virus. Symptomatic people, who are truly “infected” are the ones with large enough viral loads to easily infect others. More stuff again about watching the states with major case increases and worrying about that happening in Minnesota. For whatever reason, the epidemic is very regional. People have hypotheses, I am not sure any of them make sense. It isn’t just Minnesota that is seeing a different pattern, all our surrounding states are basically on the same path. Now it could be that we actually had a pretty substantial case burden early on, in late February and March, and we just weren’t aware of it. I don’t know. But right now, there is no reason to suspect that cases could massively shoot upward. Minnesotans’ interactive patterns are pretty high. So unless you have a good reason why we could be in a similar situation, don’t frighten us with other state’s experiences. Once more into the breach with the “ripple” effects of young people infecting old. Absolutely zero evidence of this in the data, and again, show us your contact tracing results that should identify who is infecting who. And of course, we heard that all these cases infecting young people might lead to a surge in hospitalizations. There has not been an actual dramatic increase in cases, first, and second, there has been no increase in hospitalization rates in young people. The state has data on hospitalizations by date of admission, and of course they don’t share that with us either.
And of course my favorite, someone asked about “herd” immunity. This is where the state officials are clearly out of touch with the research. They said that you only achieve that if a high percentage of people either are sick, and of course we don’t know if antibodies will last yet, or there is a vaccine. So many errors. A number of factors can slow transmission. One is that some percent of the population isn’t even susceptible to getting infected. That number is looking like it might be pretty high for this virus. Secondly, the antibody studies actually are suggesting that everyone demonstrates a lasting antibody response. The low titers don’t mean an adequate response to attempted reinfection can’t be made. And of course, not a mention of the emerging significant role of T cells. There are credible researchers estimating that population immunity might occur at 40% of the population or less being infected by this strain of the coronavirus. We see in a number of places that the epidemic, regardless of mitigation measures, seems to begin to slow at levels significantly below typical population immunity rates.
I am increasingly left with the sense that we are adrift; or at least our political leaders are. We don’t seem to have a plan or an objective. In some ways, you could infer that the plan is to just keep cases as low as possible, ignoring the fact that most new cases aren’t resulting in severe illness. Otherwise, why would you keep scaring residents when there is such low risk. And to do so, also means that we will continue to see more deaths from people avoiding health care, overdoses, etc. If that is the strategy, to keep new daily cases in the low hundreds, it means a very long and extensive lockdown of business and social activity that will prolong job loss and cause more firms to give up, and will further dispirit the population. It is a risky strategy that assumes there will be a vaccine. With cases at that level, we will never get to population immunity. Better, in my judgment, to tolerate much higher daily case numbers, even hope for them, especially among younger persons. And please, stop scaring people and contributing to ignorance about true risk. Reassure people that their actual risk of serious illness is very, very low. We still are not getting anything like a balanced approach to the relative benefits and harms of the lockdown actions.