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Thistlethwaite: Achieving herd stupidity

You cannot achieve what is called “herd immunity,” that is, when over 80% of a population has immunity to a deadly disease, without mass suffering and death unless you have an effective and widely-distributed vaccine.

We don’t have that yet in the U.S. To pretend otherwise is to advocate a kind of “herd stupidity” where science is ignored and even belittled, and models that have proven to fail are still promoted.

Despite these facts, President Trump and his administration still seems fascinated with the idea that just letting the coronavirus spread without an effective vaccine will still magically result in widespread immunity and the pandemic will just end.

“With time, it goes away,” Trump recently said in an ABC News town hall hosted by George Stephanopoulos.   “And you’ll develop — you’ll develop herd — like a herd mentality. It’s going to be — it’s going to be herd-developed, and that’s going to happen. That will all happen.”

No, that will not happen, despite what the new “expert,” Scott Atlas, brought in by Trump in August, who styles himself the “anti-Fauci,” thinks.

Atlas, a radiologist, not an epidemiologist or infectious disease specialist, has advocated that the U.S. adopt what is essentially the “Swedish model” of almost no lockdowns, no closing schools and just wearing masks.

Sweden has seen its COVID-19 cases soar and it has not escaped deep economic problems. It is genuinely stupid to adopt a model that has been proven to fail.

In fact, this is not just “herd stupidity.” We could really call this model of just letting people get sick “herd immorality.”

It is deeply, profoundly immoral to advocate a “let it spread” strategy of dealing with a dangerous and deadly pandemic in the absence of an effective vaccine.

Millions could die if this is allowed to happen.

But that has not stopped this administration from adopting it and re-branding it as “focused protection.”

The “protection” part sounds good, but it is a sham. In this method, the virus would be allowed to spread among young, healthy people while officials “try to keep older, more vulnerable Americans from contracting it.” Good luck with that, on both counts. Dad has a heart condition and junior comes home from college carrying the COVID-19 virus and there you go. Dad is both vulnerable and infected.

Young, apparently healthy people can be vulnerable too. I personally know of young people in their 20s who are “long haulers,” that is, they had COVID-19 in March and still have a range of symptoms like fatigue and cough. Some young children develop widespread inflammation.

The pandemic is once again accelerating. It has not gone away like a miracle. Coronavirus cases are once again rising, both in Eagle County and across the nation.

Eagle County Emergency Management Director Birch Barron, during his weekly update to the Eagle County Board of Commissioners, expressed concern about the rise. He “likened this week’s COVID-19 message to a tornado warning. An official alert is only as effective as people’s response to it, he explained. If people look around and see no one is springing into action in response to an alert, then the notification isn’t helping.”

An “alert” calling for people to just voluntarily change their behavior is not enough, and that’s only if they pay attention and many do not.

At a minimum, mask-wearing indoors and out in Colorado (and the nation, clearly) should be made mandatory.

Dr. Fauci already warned us in early October of this coming rise in cases and the long, difficult winter ahead if we don’t act. In the absence of decisive action, the virus will “remain a major threat through the end of 2021” he cautioned. 

Let’s not be stupid. Mandate masks indoors and outside in Colorado. Set infection thresholds beyond which schools, bars and restaurants, and some nonessential businesses automatically close. No argument. Get your cases under control or face closures.

Let’s not achieve herd stupidity. We can get ahead of this with mandatory action and still have a good ski season because people will be willing to come here, but only if we actually require the behavior changes we need.


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