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Take least disruptive approach

This letter is intended to clarify some of the misinformation and misunderstanding concerning coronavirus. I am not an expert in this matter, but there is sufficient public information upon which to form a few basic conclusions.

First, if the public health system is competently run, adequately supplied and equipped and is not overrun with cases, coronavirus, Covid-19, will cause the death of no more than around 1 percent of the people it infects and probably a lot less. This is shown by America’s statistics at this writing, which are 35,345 confirmed cases and 473 deaths. That’s a death rate of 1.3 percent. However, the confirmed cases are probably only about 20 percent of the actual number of cases since most people do not experience symptoms serious enough to cause them to be tested. That means the actual death rate is close to 0.2 percent or a little more than the common flu and these will mainly be the elderly or those with compromised immune systems. Italy is an example of what happens when the health system gets overrun with cases and has a death rate of around 10 percent of confirmed cases.

Second, the main objective, therefore, should be to make sure the health system is not deluged with a lot of cases at one time. This is the purpose of the social distancing recommendations. If people stay 6 feet from each other, the virus should not be rapidly transmitted. However, in areas of denser populations and when people do not observe distancing, governments feel required to enact stay-at-home orders or to order the closure of certain businesses involving close contact.

Third, it may be inevitable that eventually nearly everyone will be exposed to the virus and that the best way to deal with it is not to quarantine and lock-down people for an extended period, the method employed by China. Fortunately, this virus does not kill like Ebola but it spreads much easier. Therefore, the best way to deal with it may be to have the population be gradually exposed so that it builds up immunity, called “herd immunity.”

Given the low relative death rate and assuming the health system can adequately handle the influx of cases, letting people return to their daily lives is the least disruptive approach government could take. This is the decision American state and local governments must make in the next couple of weeks.

Patrick Radcliff

Vienna

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