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A Head Full of Coronavirus, Part 1

By May 17, 2020Commentary

Some additional research highlights and notes.

Couple of excellent columns in the WSJ, which you may need a subscription to see.  One is about Aaron Ginn, who was pilloried and even censored, although what he was saying about lockdowns is now fairly widely accepted.  If you follow him on Twitter, you will see a steady stream of interesting science and other stories.  (Ginn Article).  The second is by Peggy Noonan, one of my favorite columnists.  She is one of the few journalists who has any sense of what life is like for the bulk of low and middle-income Americans and she again writes movingly about the plight of these people during the epidemic, and the far greater common sense they exercise than the educated elites often do.  (WSJ Column)  Finally, for Minnesotans, Mark Kroll wrote an outstanding commentary giving an analysis indicating that stay-at-home orders aren’t correlated with lower cases or deaths.  (Star Tribune Comm.)

An article at Science describes studies finding that helper T cells, one component of our immune systems, that recognize the current coronavirus strain are found in the blood of most patients.  In addition, one of the studies found that 34% of people who hadn’t been infected with COVID 19 also had these helper T cells that recognized the current virus, which implies that they may have defenses against infection.  70% also had killer T cells that do just what their name suggests to the virus.  (Science Article)  Again, this pre-existing defense may explain why many people don’t get infected after exposure.

Here is some not so good news on just how bad the lockdowns have been for people.  Lancet carries an article on the potential impact on mothers and children under 5.  (Lancet Article)   They find that due to disruption of health care access and decreased food availability, an additional 253,000 child and 12,000 mother deaths would occur at a minimum.  That is tens of times more children than will be killed by coronavirus worldwide.  But of course, again, we have to keep in mind, lives of people who will die of coronavirus are much more important that other lives lost to different causes.

And here is a paper from Japanese researchers in which they estimate the true prevalence of infections in various countries, including the US.  (Medrxiv Paper)   They sought to identify what they referred to as the True Infection Rate and the Infection Fatality Rate.  Test rates and positive test results as a percent of the population were calculated.  They assumed these two measures were inversely correlated, with the positive rate being high when testing rates are low and vice versa.  They did a regression to use this assumption to find the Total Infection Rates.  The infection rate was negatively correlated to the testing rate on both of two days analyzed in April, with the same rate of correlation on both dates.  The ratio of reported to total infections (under the model) was from 1% to 10% for most countries.  They estimated that there were 24 times more cases in the US than are reported by testing.  And they estimated an infection fatality rate of .24%.

Finally, you may have seen reports about China having to re-lockdown various parts of the country.  That is the problem with the lockdown approach; once you let it up at all, you are going to get cases.  It is like whack-a-mole.  It is going to keep popping up.  Again, far better in my judgment to use a managed spread approach among the general population.  It is now fairly clear that patients get strong antibody responses and that a good fraction of the population may have pre-existing immune system defenses.  Between those two factors, we could reach population immunity fairly quickly.  That doesn’t mean infections completely go away, but transmission is very dramatically reduced to a background level.



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