President Trump’s tweet Monday “Don’t be afraid of Covid” has invited more criticism that he’s again downplaying the virus. Mr. Trump doesn’t do nuance, and he and his team have often acted recklessly, most prominently at the Rose Garden ceremony announcing Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination. But scientists generally agree with his fundamental point that Americans need to learn to live with the virus.
That’s also the message of a new declaration from scientists that the media are ignoring. Organized by Harvard’s Martin Kulldorff, Sunetra Gupta of Oxford and Stanford’s Jay Bhattacharya, the Great Barrington Declaration recommends that people be allowed to live normally while protecting the vulnerable. The authors are infectious-disease experts, and the statement by our deadline had been signed by more than 2,300 medical and health scientists and 2,500 practitioners, and counting.
They describe their approach as “Focused Protection,” but it’s essentially what Sweden has done and even the World Health Organization is now recommending. Many European leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron are also slowly embracing it, though it still remains heresy on America’s left.
The collateral damage from government lockdowns “include lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating mental health — leading to greater excess mortality in years to come, with the working class and younger members of society carrying the heaviest burden. Keeping students out of school is a grave injustice,” the declaration says. “Keeping these measures in place until a vaccine is available will cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed.”
Reams of public-health data and medical literature agree. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there have been 93,814 non-COVID “excess deaths” this year, including 42,427 from cardiovascular conditions, 10,686 from diabetes and 3,646 from cancer. Many are due to government shutdowns of non-essential medical care.
Public-health surveys also show depression levels, substance abuse and drug overdoses have spiked amid rising unemployment. A quarter of 18- to 24-year-olds in June said they had increased substance use to cope with the pandemic.
Pediatricians have reported a worrying rise in child abuse and accidental injuries from school closures, which have also resulted in stunted learning and emotional growth. A new Stanford study finds that students across 19 states in the spring lost from 57 to 183 days of learning in reading and 136 to 232 days of learning in math.
As the Great Barrington authors explain, “vulnerability to death from COVID-19 is more than a thousand-fold higher in the old and infirm than the young. Indeed, for children, COVID-19 is less dangerous than many other harms, including influenza.” Sixty-seven children under age 15 in the U.S have died from COVID-19.
“Our goal should therefore be to minimize mortality and social harm until we reach herd immunity,” they write. That means protecting the elderly and high-risk individuals — for instance, frequent testing of nursing-home staff — but also reopening schools, colleges, restaurants and businesses with reasonable precautions.
The virus isn’t going away even if Joe Biden wins the election and perhaps not even with a vaccine. Better treatments and protocols have improved outcomes enormously for high-risk individuals — of which President Trump may turn out to be a textbook case.
The shame is that COVID-19 has become so politicized that the calm reasoning of the Great Barrington scientists is drowned out by the fear and loathing of those who want to blame Donald Trump for every new infection. But it is the best advice for how we should cope with COVID-19.
Today’s editorial is from The Wall Street Journal. The view expressed are not necessarily those of this newspaper.