I think in the United States, we have been implicitly acting under the possibility of herd immunity.
That thinking, if it ever was viable, should now be foreclosed.
Sweden has taken plenty of flack for its early attempt at herd immunity. The country houses a much older population, and perhaps because of these two factors alone they have lost more lives in a statistically significant way compared to their Scandinavian neighbors.
The U.K. carried on with the belief of herd immunity for a brief time, and their case fatality ratio exceeds that of many developed nations.
So it goes with the United States. Though it has not been stated as an explicit tactic for several weeks, still the behavior of our businesses, our politics, our educational institutions, has been striving for herd immunity. “We’re all going to get it eventually,” our baby boomer generation has stated. “So we might as well get on with it.”
The theoretical problems with herd immunity as a strategy for coronavirus boil down to the fact that too many people would die and that many would be maligned and debilitated in the months and years to come.
As of writing this, on July 14, the New York Times reports 3.3 million cases, which is barely above 1% of our population. To imagine herd immunity, which would take 60% to 70% of the population, would be disastrous.
Even now we are being properly dismissed for travel and interaction with the rest of the world.
But now in very real terms it looks as if herd immunity was even more of a pipe dream.
For a time we had heard of patients in South Korea getting COVID-19 twice. We dismissed it for several reasons. First, testing was inaccurate and new, and the possibility for false results meant that we were not sure when a test was fully conclusive.
Second, as this video reports, the virus is like a robber in the body, leaving fingerprints. It may take a while for this coronavirus to fully leave an immune system, and each test may pick up on the last vestiges of the disease. This means that rather than getting it twice, the disease simply courses through your body. The first couple months you display neurological symptoms, the second you display gastrointestinal symptoms. It’s all one disease, but it has multiple phases.
But as the post above shows, and as further evidence comes in, it’s looking like you can get it twice.
Not only that, but some are comparing it to Dengue Fever, where subsequent infections could actually be worse for the patient, rather than better.
This is sort of horrifying. And the fact that we as of yet are not determined in this data is alarming to anyone who has been through this horrible disease from start to finish. To imagine going back through that scenario again, knowing full well that your experience did little to protect you, is existential.
Because for many of us we believe in the quote, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Whether it is what you learn at work, as a parent, or in an argument. Whether it is physical pain or emotional, we like to imagine that we are the sum of our experiences, and our confidence as we get older is proof of our trials and tribulations.
But this is different.
There is still plenty we do not know. Does an asymptomatic case the first time around mean that it could be symptomatic a second time? Are these cases in fact a second infection, or are they leftovers from the first?
It certainly makes those people who have had “Covid-19 Parties” look even more foolish than they already are. We thought the easiest way out of this story was to get the virus and get it early, thus making us immune in the future. Not only is that not available with this disease, many viruses in general do not track with that philosophy. We get flu shots each year for a reason…
Let’s assume that this knowledge is just as horrible as we imagine it to be. A) You can get it twice and B) It can be worse.
That would mean that, in order to beat this disease, a truly global effort would be required. More so than ever before, we would need to work together, prepare for a month of social distancing in food, healthcare, shelter, and infrastructure, and then commit to being alone. Because otherwise this coronavirus is here to stay for several years until it either mutates or runs us ragged.
All that said, I cannot imagine a global effort.
I love people. I love listening to stories and justifications for choices made in life and for new directions and for sitting outside with a drink and parsing out what it means to be alive. But I also know that people love other people too, so much so that I doubt Americans will skip an opportunity to celebrate a holiday together. We are social creatures, and this pandemic gets to the heart of what we feel to be our purpose in life.
Jean Paul Sartre may have envisioned Hell as “other people,” but I for one find this hard to hold onto for long. For me, people are the reason I exist, and the happiest times in my life have been ones of self abnegation. Where I release my ego and attempt to help.
But now I am asking deep questions about education and teaching because to imagine a teacher getting COVID-19 twice in one school year would make my heart bleed.
This blog post serves as a PSA for the ongoing developments of getting coronavirus twice, but it also lays bare, if this is true, just what an uphill climb this will likely be. It has been months. To think about this disease in terms of years is something few of us have done or desire to do. Our economies, our politics, and our social structures will all have to change.
I hope we’ll be ready. But I suspect not.