Gutknecht: Pulling the Tooth Slowly

If we assume some risk, protecting the vulnerable while reopening schools and the economy, we will put this virus behind us.

Just a short walk from downtown Rochester, Minnesota sits one of the largest hospitals in North America. Established by the Sisters of St. Francis, St. Marys has 200 ICU beds and 50 operating rooms. A century ago a few of the nuns were stricken while treating patients of the Spanish Flu (pardon the culturally insensitive title). If you are seriously ill, Saint Marys is one of the best places in the world to be treated.Today, she stands virtually empty.

Almost all staff (including doctors and administrators) are receiving pay cuts and/or furlough notices. These front line healthcare workers never imagined that flattening the curve would end up flattening them. They now find themselves sharing the pain of millions of their fellow Americans.

Flattening the curve? Wasn’t that the original goal?

Somehow our experts, the media and power-hungry governors have been moving the goalposts. The new meme: we can’t really get America back to work until there are zero risks. Suspicious folks now think that the real objective is to flatten the economy enough so that the confused Democratic candidate will have a shot at defeating President Trump this November.

Let’s look at the facts.

We know a lot more today than we knew just a few weeks ago. This malady appears more communicable than regular influenza. It is probably more lethal, especially among the elderly and those with compromised health conditions. Although, as we get more data and improved treatment procedures it appears that it is not as deadly as originally advertised.

Second, unlike common influenza, there is no vaccine. Even with the fast track status, we are probably not going to see one this year. Waiting for a vaccine to reopen the economy is a non-starter.

Third, while treatments are showing promise, scientific proof is still spotty. Drugmaker Gilead recently announced significant success with their drug remdesivir, originally developed as a potential treatment for Ebola. In a tiny sample size (when compared with the numbers shown to have significant benefit from hydroxycloroquine) it offers hope. Since the announcement wasn’t made by the bad Orange Man, most of the media jumped on remdesivir as a magic bullet. They continue to snarl at even the mention of hydroxycloroquine.

Large scale studies like the one in South Dakota will provide some clarity.

A friend who built a successful software-based control system that dominates its market wondered why various demographic groups were affected so differently by this virus? He dug deep into the data and concluded that there was a strong correlation between the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and people’s susceptibility to Wuhan. Young people who got both the original shot and the booster seem almost immune. Older people who were never vaccinated and those who eschew vaccinations are much more vulnerable. The data overlaid almost perfectly with the hypothesis. A Harvard measles study seems to lend credibility to this theory. It motivated me to get a booster. You may consider it as well.

Given what we know about vaccines and proven treatments, we are left with the only proven way to plow through this enemy. It’s called herd immunity. We cannot wait for this virus to just go away. Our nation will be bankrupt.

There is a growing belief that many more Americans have been exposed to Wuhan than was ever imagined. It may explain the decline in infections in California. Testing in Colorado and Massachusetts confirmed that a surprisingly large number of those tested had antibodies. Meaning that they had been exposed even though they exhibited few symptoms. This phenomenon has given rise to the term silent carriers. Silent carriers may be spreading the virus. They may also play a critical role in building herd immunity. As more and more Americans are exposed and build immunity, the virus has fewer places to land.

If we assume some risk, protecting the vulnerable while reopening schools and the economy, we will put this virus behind us. A study by Professor Yitzhak Ben Israel of Tel Aviv University comparing national responses questioned the real value of overly protective policies in any event. Or we can follow the lead of the Chicken Littles and prolong the pain.

Either way, this abscessed tooth must be pulled. Why pull it slowly?

Gil Gutknecht is a former Republican Congressman from Minnesota.