On March 13 my family and I began physical distancing and sheltering at home. At that time there were 2,224 reported cases of COVID–19 and 50 deaths in the U.S. Nearly two months later the infection number has grown to 1.5 million cases and the death rate has soared to 90,000 , and both these numbers continue to increase in the majority of places across the country1.
In March when the Governor DeWine closed the schools and issued a shelter in place order we knew the following about the virus that was disrupting our lives:
- COVID–19 is highly contagious and spreads quickly.
- It takes between 5–14 days for symptoms to present themselves.
- People infected can transmit the disease to others even when they don’t present symptoms.
- COVID–19 tends to attack older people (60 ) and tends to be more fatal for that group.
- COVID–19 attacks the respiratory system, and can (and often does) cause permanent damage to lung function.
- COVID–19 has been linked to blood clots and strokes in patients 40–50
- There is currently no effective treatment for, or vaccine to prevent, infection.
- There is no widespread testing for either the virus itself, or to determine whether one has already contracted and recovered from COVID–19.
So without widespread testing (and tracing), treatment, or a vaccine, on what basis is the State of Ohio making a decision to start reopening? How do you make an informed decision that it is safe to start inviting diners back into restaurants? How many offices are going to be safe enough for workers to spend eight hours a day working in close proximity to others? As was pointed out in the excellent article by Erin Bromage the “biggest super-spreading events” are meat packing facilities, weddings and funerals (i.e., church services), birthday parties, and businesses with face-to-face networking (restaurants, call centers etc.).2
But all of that being said, the more fundamental point is this: nothing, absolutely nothing changed between April 30th and May 1st. Nothing, absolutely nothing, has changed between May 1st and May 15th,3 and we need to stop pretending it has. My parents who are in their early 70s are just as susceptible to the virus, and to dying from the the virus now as they were when Ohio began sheltering at home. There is no way of knowing whether my kids may pick up and then transmit the virus to one of them at a family function. And if one of them were to get sick, there is still no effective treatment.
Ideally, the sheltering at home we have been doing in Ohio for two months would have resulted in the virus running its course. It would have stopped the spread, and those that had it would either recover or tragically succumb to the virus without spreading to others. Sheltering in place did not make it safer to interact with others. It didn’t make stores, restaurants, churches, barber shops, or gyms safer for employees or customers. All it did was clear space in hospitals for those that are inevitably going to suffer and possibly die in the upcoming weeks and months.
During this isolation the federal government could have deployed widespread testing and contact tracing. They could have required masks to be worn when out in public (something that could have had a major impact of the spread of the disease4). They didn’t do this and now we are back to square one. Even now, in our haste to reopen, there is still no plan for testing all those workers that will be returning to jobs that require interactions with others. At the end of the day, we aren’t really trying to combat COVID–19, rather, we are doing what Leanna S. Wen has stated in The Washington Post:
And this seems to me where we are with covid–19: We’re no longer trying to eliminate the virus. Instead, we are accepting that Americans will have to live with it.
I would only add that we are not just accepting that people will have to live with it; but die from it as well.