Ex-CDC Chief Frieden: COVID-19 --Protect vulnerable, let virus spread to the young? Why it's a terrible plan

Getting enough people infected to achieve herd immunity would come at a terrible price

There’s a mistaken and dangerous idea spreading like a virus – that we can let COVID spread among young, healthy people as long as we protect the vulnerable.

The idea is appealing but it would backfire. In fact, following this advice would lead to more Americans being killed by COVID than were killed in all the wars of the 20th Century.

DR. TOM FRIEDEN: WEARING A MASK CAN HELP STOP COVID AND GET OUR JOBS BACK

Here’s why:

  • Although younger people rarely get seriously ill from COVID, they sometimes do. Think of the tragic death of the 28-year-old obstetrician infected in the hospital she delivered babies in.
  • What starts in children and young adults doesn’t stay with them. No age group is an island. Young people have parents and grandparents. They shop and work. When they interact with others, they spread infection – even if they feel perfectly fine. That’s exactly what we’ve seen in the U.S.: infections in younger adults have been followed 1-2 weeks later by hospitalizations of older people, and, weeks after that, by increases in deaths.
  • We don’t know if immunity will be strong or long-lasting. Reinfection with COVID a second time is possible, although it seems to be rare. Even if lots of young people get infected, they will not be a wall to protect the rest of us.
  • The vulnerable are not a small group. One in five Americans is over age 60, and more than 95% percent of older people don’t live in nursing homes, where policies can reduce risk of spread. And half or more of all adults have health problems that increase their risk of death from COVID.
  • And the bottom line: Getting enough people infected to achieve herd immunity would come at a terrible price. With less than 15% of Americans infected, there have been more than 220,000 deaths from COVID. To get to a 60% infection rate would mean at least half a million more deaths in this country. And herd immunity might require even more than that. It’s shocking, but the plain truth is that this would mean more Americans killed by COVID in just one year than were killed in all the wars of the 20th century.

The non-COVID impacts of COVID have been awful. Lost jobs. Stalled educational progress. Isolation and despair.

CLICK HERE TO GET THE OPINION NEWSLETTER

Thirty times more people in this country have lost their jobs from the pandemic than have lost their lives.

More from Opinion

But the way to confront both the virus and the societal fallout from it isn’t to wave the white flag and surrender. We must fight smarter. We can protect the vulnerable and get our jobs and economy back. Here’s how.

First, knock down the spread of the virus.

We’ve gotten better at doing that! About 80-90% of people are wearing masks in public indoor spaces in most places. Masking up is an important step forward. By being careful, most schools can open safely and stay open.

The way to confront both the coronavirus and the societal fallout from it isn’t to wave the white flag and surrender. We must fight smarter. We can protect the vulnerable and get our jobs and economy back.

We can get health care working safer and better than ever. Outdoor activities are healthy and very low risk of COVID. But crowded indoor spaces with poor ventilation, particularly bars and restaurants, are more of a problem and will need to be limited, especially where COVID is spreading widely. We have change places and activities that amplify the virus, including risky family get-togethers.

Second, box the virus in to stop cases from becoming clusters and clusters from becoming outbreaks.

The idea is simple. Isolate people soon after they become infectious so the virus will spread less. Make sure exposed people don’t expose others, so that if they do get infected, the spread of the virus stops with them.

The plain truth is that the only way to protect the vulnerable is to have less, not more spread of the virus.

This one-two punch approach can drive infections down. This, in turn, is the only way to resume economic and social activity.

Yogi Berra once said, “If people don’t want to come to the ballpark, how are you going to stop them?” Until we knock the virus down and change risky places, people won’t be confident that it’s safe to go to a movie or dine out. Until they are confident that they won’t spread COVID to their loved ones, many people – enough to make our economic recovery stall – simply won’t go.

If we work together more, we can save lives and get our economy back.

We’re all are increasingly impatient for our economy and society to recover. And we all want to protect the vulnerable.

CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP

The plain truth is that the only way to protect the vulnerable is to have less, not more spread of the virus.

We must do what works to prevent infection from spreading and to stop it when it does spread.

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM DR. TOM FRIEDEN