COVID-19 isn’t going away.
Increasingly, that’s the consensus among experts, many of whom believe that between the proliferation of variants and a reluctance on the part of many Americans to be vaccinated, herd immunity simply isn’t a realistic goal in the US.
This rather stark conclusion was detailed Monday in an expansive article by Apoorva Mandavilli, writing for The New York Times.
“There is widespread consensus among scientists and public health experts that the herd immunity threshold is not attainable — at least not in the foreseeable future, and perhaps not ever,” Mandavilli said. “Instead, they are coming to the conclusion that rather than making a long-promised exit, the virus will most likely become a manageable threat that will continue to circulate in the United States for years to come, still causing hospitalizations and deaths but in much smaller numbers.”
The piece is unnerving, but not so much because it suggests that COVID itself will be with us for the long-term. To be sure, that’s disconcerting too. But therapeutics will doubtlessly improve, as will scientists’ understanding of the disease. Absent some kind of nightmare mutation, this virus won’t represent a true existential threat to our species. What’s more frightening is the unavoidable temptation to extrapolate from the language Mandavilli uses to explain why herd immunity may never be achieved for COVID, to a situation where the threat is more acute. Hold that thought.
“It is already clear… that the virus is changing too quickly, new variants are spreading too easily and vaccination is proceeding too slowly for herd immunity to be within reach anytime soon,” she said, adding that the threshold for herd immunity rose as new, more contagious variants appeared. Now, experts believe the threshold is “at least 80%.” In the event variants become even more contagious, that figure could keep rising.
In addition, “skepticism about the vaccines among many Americans and lack of access in some groups make it a challenge to” stay above the immunity threshold even if it’s reached, the Times remarked, adding that experts believe “vaccine mandates would only make that stance worse.”
In America, hurdles to herd immunity are numerous. One well-documented issue is the tendency among (too) many Americans to subjugate almost all other considerations to an absurdly quixotic battle to preserve “liberties” and “freedoms” they imagine are somehow being eroded or infringed by simple mandates that require masks in grocery stores during an epidemic or by calls for universal vaccinations.
That represents the complete abandonment of common sense in the name of “freedom” and it makes no more sense than removing the seatbelts from your vehicle because laws that require them are an infringement upon your family’s sacred right to be ejected through the windshield in an accident.
Make no mistake, the Founders wouldn’t be proud of someone who cut out the seatbelts in their car or refused to wear a small face covering during an epidemic. Rather, the Founders would likely be so dismayed at the sheer, blatant stupidity on display, that they may well have just scrapped the whole thing and returned to England, explaining that, having seen the future, they’re no longer confident in the wisdom of the grand project.
This problem is pervasive in the world of finance. CNBC’s Rick Santelli is a prime example. He’s a television version of the libertarian bloggers pushing ideological poison to the masses — only without the actual ideology.
Indeed, there are a lot of ostensible libertarian crusaders in America these days. You can just as easily find them blogging about economics, running hedge funds, and pretending to be portfolio managers on Twitter as you can spot them driving oversized pickup trucks with silly bumper stickers, filling up their shopping carts with Mountain Dew at Walmart or wandering around the US Capitol with a Confederate flag.
But they aren’t libertarians. Virtually none of those folks have any academic background in political philosophy and couldn’t name a single thinker from the libertarian tradition they claim to represent. What they espouse, wittingly or not, isn’t libertarianism. It’s poison.
I’ve been over that a hundred times if I’ve been over it once.
But in addition to large swaths of the electorate persisting in the delusion that the Founders would support activities that deserve to be documented in some future edition of The Darwin Awards, there are other obstacles to herd immunity in the US. The Times‘s Mandavilli documents several.
“Herd immunity is often described as a national target, but that is a hazy concept in a country this large,” she wrote, on the way to describing how, even if vaccine coverage is robust for the country as a whole, incomplete coverage in small towns poses considerable risk. “Given the degree of movement among regions, a small virus wave in a region with a low vaccination level can easily spill over into an area where a majority of the population is protected,” she said, quoting multiple experts in the process.
And that’s to say nothing of the distinct possibility that more dangerous variants from abroad make their way to the US and spread, especially in locales where, for whatever reason, immunity is low.
Ultimately, Mandavilli paints a rather depressing picture. “Over the long term — a generation or two — the goal is to transition the new coronavirus to become more like its cousins that cause common colds,” she remarked, noting that “some unknown proportion of people with mild cases may go on to experience debilitating symptoms for weeks or months — a syndrome called ‘long COVID’ — but they are unlikely to overwhelm the health care system.”
Again, all of this is disconcerting enough on its own, but the most unnerving question the Times piece raises isn’t even mentioned explicitly: What are the implications of this for humanity in the event the next pandemic is a hemorrhagic fever? Or some kind of rabies-like madness?
Meanwhile, Andrew Cuomo said Monday that all-day subway service will resume in New York City starting later this month. “This is a major reopening of economic and social activity,” Cuomo told a press briefing. New York will also lift capacity limits on restaurants, theaters, and stores on May 19.