Thursday, October 7, 2021

Covid-19 FAQ vs GBD (3): Shielding vulnerable

Covid-19 FAQ on the Great Barrington Declaration 
III: Shielding the vulnerable

by George J. Dance

from "A Defence of the Great Barrington Declaration from Its Powerful Critics", The Daily Sceptic, 22 March 2021. 

2) Nobody really knows how to “shield” vulnerable people. It sounds very simple: keep the older and more vulnerable people safe, and let everyone else go about their business. But it’s really not that straightforward. Practically, *how* do you keep those vulnerable people safe?(9)

The first thing to occur to a GBD signatory like myself is: “Offer them a vaccine first.” As noted, that is what the GBD authors have been championing, and it has actually become Government policy in some places. Granted, though, that vaccines are not magic; they will not prevent 100% of all Covid-related diseases or deaths; and in some places and for some people for they will not be available for a while. So what else can be done?

Take, for instance, multi-generational households. A great many students and other adult children live with their parents (according to one report, this is around a third of all homes in the UK). In some communities, grandparents often live in the same home as grandchildren. Sharing a home with an infected person is one of the most common ways of catching the coronavirus – one study from South Korea found that home contacts of an infected person were more than six times more likely to have the disease than other contacts. So the question is: where are all the high-risk people supposed to go to “shield” while their younger family members go out and about, merrily catching the virus? The authors of the Great Barrington Declaration have never given anything approaching an adequate answer.

The best answer to that question is to note the questionable assumptions in it. One is that seniors in multi-generational households will have to be removed, perhaps by Government-enforced orders, to quarantine camps or hotels (when GBD in fact advocates no such thing). The other is that, in the absence of lockdowns, everyone would rush out to quickly catch the virus (when it is actually to each person’s advantage to hang back and let others build herd immunity by catching it instead).

Stripping those assumptions out, though, the problem of multi-generational households remains; and one can compare alternative solutions. The lockdown one is simple: prevent Mom from going to work, and her daughter from going to school, and Granny will have nothing to worry about. Yet even a champion of lockdowns like New York governor Andrew Cuomo has questioned how well that worked out: “I don’t even know that that was the best public health policy. Young people then quarantined with older people, [it] was probably not the best public health strategy… The younger people could have been exposing the older people to an infection.”(14)

The GBD solution, on the other hand, would be to let these people “live their lives”, which includes managing their own risks. Some common sense suggestions are: the daughter and mother should limit close contact with Granny; they should all give each other maximum space; they should let plenty of fresh air into the house; they should take Vitamins C and D and zinc, and drink tea, to build up their natural immunity. They could all be home-tested or temperature-checked regularly; anyone who felt even mildly ill could wear a mask. Perhaps Mom and Granny could take Ivermectin. Granny could even get a vaccine. (Yes, we have those now.) None of the above requires Government supervision. Not only are most families in situations like these able to manage such risks – as Hayek pointed out, their knowledge of local conditions, which the Government lacks, makes them able to better manage their risks than it would be able to. 

If the daughter does catch Covid, she may have to leave home for a couple of weeks, going perhaps to a relative, perhaps to a hospital. After two weeks, though, when she is no longer infectious, she can not only return home but resume a closer relationship with Mom and Granny. Because she now has little to no chance of catching Covid, she has next to no chance of passing it on. By gaining immunity, she is no longer a threat to them but rather a shield; she can be an intermediary contact between Mom, Granny, and others who come to the door.

I realize that two of my own underlying premises – that individuals knowing their own local conditions may manage their own risks better than politicians writing general rules for everyone; and that infections that lead to full recovery and immunity are good things, not bad, because they can protect the more at-risk from infections – may be controversial with some. But I will skip arguing for them here, as this section is already too long.

3) The number of people isolating would be enormous. There were 14,843,119 people in the UK who lived in a household with someone aged 65+ in 2019, and 2,240,850 patients on the Shielded List – though some of these are over 65, so there’s some overlap.

I appreciate that the FAQsters try to give a precise number, rather than use the “defining who is vulnerable is complex” dodge the John Snow Memorandum resorted to.(3) I am also glad to see their scare quotes disappear from the word “Shielded”. I do think the estimated number is too high, not just because of “some overlap”, but also because (as I hope I explained well enough in the previous section) it does not seem necessary that everyone in a multi-generational household continue to be “isolated” or locked down. Certainly the GBD does not advocate a lockdown for all of them, or even a limited lockdown for seniors only. (On the contrary, it emphasises that those “who are more at risk may participate [in social life] if they wish”.(1)

That would have meant at least 15 million people being required to self-isolate, requiring food and medical attention at home while the virus was spreading unimpeded in the outside world. It’s unclear how we would have provided food and medical supplies to such a large number of people while the rest of the population was living through the worst pandemic in a century, with all the disruption and work absences that would entail.

What a nightmare! 15 million people placed under a Melbourne-style lockdown for months on end, unable to venture out even to buy food – many not even in their own homes. (Remember “where are all the high-risk people supposed to go”?). Fortunately, that is not what the GBD is advocating. To repeat; it does not call for replacing a lockdown of the non-essential with a lockdown of the vulnerable. It does not advocate locking anyone down.

Some or many seniors (like myself) will voluntarily isolate,. [Voluntary isolation is quite different psychologically from being locked down. For one thing, a person does not experience giving up control; for another, the person adopts rules that suit him and make it easier for him to obey them) In practical details, though, I expect it would be]* little different from life under lockdown here in Ontario – not coincidentally, during the “worst pandemic in a century”. So let me mention how I made it through that:

The Ontario Government, in its wisdom, has closed most of the stores in my neighbourhood, but left one grocery store and one big-box retailer. I was allowed to walk to those, but did not have to do even that: My wife could order food and medicine on an app, and the same day someone will drop the goods at my apartment door, knock, and leave them. Believe it or not, that is not yet another Government app, but that has been offered by a private company since our very first lockdown. The Government’s role has been limited to making sure my pension gets into my bank account, something it was already doing, so tackling the alleged logistical nightmare has actually cost it nothing.

The experience has reinforced my beliefs that: first, individuals with knowledge of their local conditions can sometimes do a better job of managing their risks than Government officials with out such knowledge; second, that a market economy, with free entry to local entrepreneurs (with their own knowledge of those local conditions, can help me and others manage our risks than better than whatever Government programs the FAQsters could devise. A free market, and a vital civil society, can accomplish many things more efficiently than a Government, and here is another example. 

It follows that the less of the market and society a Government disrupts [that is, the less their response resemles a lockdown]*, the more efficiently the nation will be able to deal with both routine programs and emergencies.

* [Written Oct. 7, 2020]

3. Nisreen A. Alwan et al., “Scientific consensus on the COVID-19 pandemic: we need to act nowThe Lancet, October 15th, 2020.
14. Bernadette Hogan and Aaron Feis, “Cuomo wonders if coronavirus quarantine may have backfired in some cases”, New York Post, March 26th, 2020.

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