Timeline for life returning to normal
INTEGRITY BEAT - Henry J. Schumacher (The Freeman) - April 3, 2020 - 12:00am

We are all flooded with continuous bad news about COVID19. My brain is only willing to look at the more positive news that is available also. It’s unfortunate that politicians around the world are not listening to experts/seasoned virologists, whose strategies are widely different from the strategies applied by over-eager politicians.

Actually, we are suffering from two crises: One is COVID19’s very contagious influenza infection, the other is the hype and to some extend the overreactions manifested largely in overly bureaucratic restrictions, and limited answers about how to handle the future, beyond the restrictions.

And we are watching with deep concern that governments take nationalistic approaches that risk disrupting an international system that has become increasingly interconnected in recent decades, and which was successful until Trump arrived.

All of us must surely be wondering: When will things return to normal?

The answer is simple, if not exactly satisfying: when enough of the population — possibly 60 or 80 percent of people — is resistant to COVID-19 to stifle the disease’s spread from person to person.

There are two realistic paths to achieving this “population-level immunity.” One is the development of a vaccine. The other is for the disease to work its way through the population, surely killing many, but also leaving many others — those who contract the disease and then recover — immune. ‘They’re just Teflon at that point, meaning they can’t get infected again and they won’t pass on the disease’, explains Andrew Noymer, a public-health professor at the University of California at Irvine. Once enough people reach ‘Teflon’ status normalcy will be restored.

Projecting when each facet of daily life will be restored would be easier if public-health authorities had a well-informed view of who is infected, who has recovered and become immune, and who is still susceptible — this is the information that would emerge from widespread testing, which the Philippines and many other countriesare terribly behind on deploying.

Also in a month or two, public-health authorities and researchers will likely have a better sense of whether those who recover from an infection are immune to future infections, and if so, for how long. That information will come in handy for containment efforts.

These are the sorts of things that could be learned from months of testing both people who have symptoms and people who don’t. Two types of tests matter here: one that detects the presence of the virus itself, and one that detects the antibodies that people develop when they’re immune to it.

With this new information, it might be possible to isolate contagious or more vulnerable people, while a large portion of the population returns to something resembling normal life. We can all accept fewer tables to a restaurant, for instance, or a smaller number of people at a bar. Social distancing is not that bad.

On the other hand, pharma companies are coming up with vaccines, but unfortunately there are a series of methodical trials that need to be done to make sure they don’t harm healthy people, to make sure they generate the desired antibodies, and to make sure those antibodies actually defend against the disease. These aren’t overcautious bureaucratic safeguards; if researchers are making something that’s going to be pumped into the arms of hundreds of millions, probably billions, of people, they want to make sure it’s just right.

And if it’s just right, normal life will resume, but not immediately. The logistics of vaccinating hundreds of million, probably billions of people is no mean feat. And assuming that the vaccine doesn’t all arrive in one big batch, some sort of system would need to be in place for determining who gets the first doses: the people most vulnerable to the disease? Health-care workers? Or politicians and people with plenty of money?

Even in a vaccine-less world, reaching population-level immunity means that future outbreaks of COVID-19 should be far less damaging than the one we are currently confronted with.

In conclusion, my brain tells me to get ready to take advantage of opportunities rather than seeing problems only. I am interested in your feedback; contact me at Schumacher@eitsc.com

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