Monday, November 20, 2023

The Moonshot to End the Pandemic

 A recent paper explains how easily we could stop the pandemic even with current highly transmissible, immune evasive variants.

Barry Hunt explained the paper's findings:

Rt [the replication rate of the virus] typically hovers just around 1, just enough to sustain transmission endlessly. Rt typically peaks at less than 1.50. That means a 30% reduction in transmission can extinguish the pandemic even at its peaks. Even less between waves at non-peak Rt times. 

It's a Good News - Bad News story.

The Bad News: For almost four years we have been doing something, but not the right thing, and not well enough so that the pandemic keeps on going and going. And people are sick of doing things that don't work. So the pandemic will continue forever if left unchecked. And Covid will continue to damage people's immune systems, unlocking latent viruses like TB, enabling cancers, and making colds, flue, and RSV more severe. And continue to cause long term damage to all organs including people's brains, hearts, lungs, and vasculature. 

For anyone who thinks we all already tried wearing masks, and it didn't work: We didn't wear well-fitting masks, and we all took them off in schools to eat together. At first, teachers weren't allowed to wear N95s (and some of us hid ours as we walked through the halls where cameras are present), and students weren't allowed to go outside to eat. We could have stopped it in its tracks, but we didn't provide the right information or supplies early enough. We gave students bits of black cloth without even nose clips on them!! There's more and more evidence that the information existed by about March 2020, but it was largely kept from the public. I certainly knew just from reading international news and some scientific papers at the time that making kids eat together indoors was a really bad idea, but I couldn't convince my principal or school board. Now this information is widespread and undeniable (much as some try). Beyond wearing masks for a few weeks, we'll also have to curb the habit of sipping a drink all day. 

The Good News: A 10% reduction between waves is all we need to stop Covid. Easy-peasy. And a 30% reduction during peak transmission is not that hard. So we could stop the pandemic if we want to. 

Schools and healthcare are the two biggest drivers of community cases. They likely account for 2/3 of onward transmission. 70% of the time children bring Covid home to the family. Wearing N95s in schools and healthcare would reduce Rt below 1 even during peak times. Even earloop KN95s and KF94s would work as long as it was two-way masking. 

SARS2 is much more transmissible than colds, flus, RSV, TB, etc. If we decided to wipe out SARS2, we would wipe out all the other respiratory diseases at the same time. We know this for sure because we did it already. In fact, one strain of flu, Yamagata B, was eliminated from planet earth altogether. 

Imagine living in a country where we eliminated all colds, flu, RSV, and Covid. Pretty cool. Liberating. More freedom and productivity than ever. Visitors to the country would have to mask up with a respirator for two weeks to preserve our newfound freedom. 

There will be breaches from time to time that need to be stomped out. Early. Before they affect everyone else. But it's much easier to douse small campfires than a raging forest fire. 

Wiping out respiratory diseases would have to be taken on as a national moonshot. Set a launch date. Supply the hospitals and schools. Monitor and report progress in real time. I suspect many people outside of schools and healthcare would be inspired to join in to speed up the process. 

People are reluctant to mask now for a pandemic with no end in sight. But for just a few weeks to accomplish the mission? To get our freedom back. That's a different story.

Will there be doubters? Of course. That's a given. Just like there were doubters who said we would never get to the moon. Is that a reason not to do it? Of course not. Will there be outspoken naysayers and complainers and shit disturbers? Of course. Guaranteed. That's the world we live in now. There are paid trolls and bots and nation states who will take dead aim against it. Is that a reason not to do it? Of course not. 

If you want to live in a country that is strong and resilient and free, this is for you. If you want freedom to live a normal life again, this is for you. If you want to protect your family, this is for you. If you want a good economy, this is for you. If you want to be healthy and live a long life, this is for you. If you want to pass on a better world to your children and grandchildren, this is for you. 

[If it seems unrealistic,] so was putting a human on the moon in 1969. Or Mars in the future. Or building 1,200 km of sewers in London in the mid 1800s to end waterborne diseases like cholera. It requires vision, fortitude, and commitment. 

One commenter worried that it would mean shutting down the hospitality industry with grave economic consequences. It might, but just for a few weeks. Then the economy will likely rebound even better than its current state. 

I'm totally in! 


Laura Fry said...

I started wearing a mask - even if it wasn't an N95 - in April 2020. By then I'd figured out that masking was the only way to go for me (immune compromised) and friends were sewing triple layer, dense cotton cloth into fairly tight fitting masks. Plus healthcare workers still weren't getting masks, so I chose to leave what *was* available for them, on the front lines.

I've since transitioned to something closer to an N95. It's not as tight fitting as it should be, but since I don't work, only go out when I need to and spend as little time as possible indoors with other people, I cross my fingers.

Xmas parties/potlucks? Nope, nope, nope. I could go and just not eat, but that seems too much like Death attending, putting a buzzkill on folk who are making different choices.

Plus it breaks my heart to listen to my friends complain, endlessly, it seems, about being sick from every bug that comes by. They've gotten sick of my pointing out that wearing masks would protect them from those bugs as well as covid, but...apparently I'm the uninformed one, the misguided one.

All I'm left with is to protect myself (with supportive spouse who does most of the shopping, etc.) and hope that none of my friends wind up with long covid (although I have my suspicions about a few who likely have it already) or dead.

Since we have no kids, at least I don't have to watch my progeny make risky choices, and the more my social set whiffs away covid concerns, the more I withdraw from them.

Fortunately I have my weaving, books, puzzles and a few friends who *do* wear masks when they come to the house, like the one who arrived today to deliver some of her fresh made jam and pick up a bag of puzzles. I don't even have to ask my 'true' friends to mask for me, so I don't feel entirely cut off from society.

Just that with everything going on in the world, I think we are in for generations of 'hurt' and it makes me very sad, honestly, when we *could* have sunk the covid ship quite quickly in the early days, and didn't. :(

Marie Snyder said...

Hi Laura,
I feel the same way about going out with people and wearing a mask -- even if I don't mention it, it's still a buzzkill for people, a reminder of the pandemic, or, possibly, a reminder that their poor friend is still germaphobic! I keep hoping that something will wake people up to the path being taken, but I also spend most of my time at home. It might not technically be too late to change it all, but I really can't see it happening. I'm so grateful for the internet to keep me connected to so many different groups and people who pop on here to chat!! It really helps! A world of hurt on its way, absolutely. I try to stay present-focused as much as I can, but it will be a tough slog, and likely not like any of us planned for our future.