Dr. David L. Katz, founding director of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, wrote in The New York Times on March 20 that we may be ineffectively fighting the COVID-19 virus even as we are causing economic collapse.
He points out that the public health consequences of a meltdown of normal life will be calamitous, possibly graver than the direct toll of the virus itself, and that the path we’re on may not be the most effective way to control the contagion. He notes the downside of sending possibly-infected young people to huddle with their 50-something parents and 70-something grandparents.
He tells us that the clustering of complications and fatalities among the elderly and chronically ill suggests we could achieve the twin goals of saving lives and not overwhelming our medical system by focusing on protecting those highly at risk.
He proposes that we pivot from trying to protect all people to focusing on the most vulnerable, allowing most of society to return to life as usual. We would still avoid large gatherings like stadium events and concerts, but children could return to school and adults to their jobs.
Resources would be used to keep the most vulnerable at home and direct the medical system to their early care. Testing would be targeted to this group, and medical resources would be focused on those who fall critically ill.
A sense of calm could be restored and society as a whole could develop natural herd immunity to the virus. The vast majority of people would experience mild infections when exposed – some with no symptoms at all – and would develop immunity. Once the wider population has built immunity, the risk to the most vulnerable would fall dramatically.
Maybe the more targeted approach that Dr. Katz suggests is what we need.