Coronavirus: If this is war, we must attack the enemy, without fear

Everyone is asking the question: When will we be able to return to normal? Flattening the curve does not provide an answer to this question.

Soldiers of Israel's Home Front Command deliver food parcels to Bnei Brak, currently under coronavirus lockdown, April 5, 2020 (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
Soldiers of Israel's Home Front Command deliver food parcels to Bnei Brak, currently under coronavirus lockdown, April 5, 2020
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
COVID-19 is an extremely contagious (microbiologists estimate three to seven times more-so than seasonal influenza viruses), but ultimately not a very lethal virus other than to mostly very old patients and those with pre-existing conditions (smoking doesn’t help outcomes, either).
This is the first pandemic in history where healthy patients are being quarantined, in addition to the sick and vulnerable. Why? Because COVID-19 is so contagious, there is a fear that we could see a spike in cases that would overwhelm our healthcare systems, leaving large numbers of people to die without access to adequate medical treatment. In other words, the medical community is not concerned with the mortality rate of this virus, as long as we can manage the volume.
By putting the general population into self-quarantine and other social distancing measures, epidemiologists believe that they will succeed in “flattening the curve,” thereby allowing the healthcare system to manage the case load. But, flattening also means fewer cases for far longer, meaning this pandemic will not be allowed to burn itself out by infecting a large segment, which eventually provides population herd immunity.
Instead, the pandemic will continue for months or longer, until a cure is found. Everyone is asking the question: When will we be able to return to normal? Flattening the curve does not provide an answer to this question.
World leaders have all said that we are at war with an invisible enemy, and they are right. But we are not actually confronting this war; we are running scared, and allowing this virus to destroy decades of economic progress, ruin our way of life and standard of living, and take away our civil liberties.
Below is my prescription for managing and defeating the COVID-19 virus. This solution defeats corona at a very small fraction of the trillions of dollars allocated so far by governments around the globe:
1. OPEN TEMPORARY MASH-style field hospitals for the eventual surge. We now have some experience with this virus. From the US, the epicentre of COVID-19 with the greatest number of cases worldwide, the CDC has revealed that 50% of those that contract the virus are completely asymptomatic, and that a further 40% are only mildly symptomatic. Out of the 10% who require hospitalization, 2.5% will end up in the ICU, of which about half, or 1.25%, will require respirators. This is from the entire population; if we quarantine the vulnerable, the proportion requiring treatment will be far less, perhaps less than half of the proportion of current cases.
In the US, this implies a requirement for four million ICU beds, and two million respirators/ventilators (these can be kept for the next pandemic). Use stadiums, parks, parking lots, etc. to house these facilities in tents. For the respirators, President Trump has already invoked the Defense Production Act, effectively commandeering US industry via the so that 3M, General Motors, GE, etc. build the “bullets” for this war: respirators.
2. As we don’t have enough medical professionals to handle this surge, bring in the army and National Guards to assist in nursing duties. Give the soldiers a crash course on how to handle corona cases, including those requiring intubation and respirators. It’s complicated work, but it is largely technical work that can be mastered with supervision, and skills which will perhaps remain useful to these newly trained personnel in the future.
3. Once these measures are in place, end social distancing, except for the vulnerable population. Let the healthy go back to work and play, and completely re-open the economy.
4. Test, test, test for COVID-19, especially front-line health care and social workers, who should be tested multiple times per day, so that they don’t infect grandpa and grandma, who crucially rely on their services. Importantly, develop an antibody test for patients who have already recovered, and are now immune. Research the length of this immunity.
5. Only when there is a cure, such as a vaccine, estimated to be ready in a year to 18 months, should the quarantine advisory to the vulnerable population be lifted.
Instead of flattening the curve, we need to break the curve by obtaining herd immunity, as was recommended by the chief scientist in the UK, before the country’s leadership succumbed, in fear, to “herd thinking.” Herd immunity would also eventually be obtained by a vaccine, but that is too far down the road to adequately resolve this crisis in a timely manner.
The number of COVID-19 patients who die under my plan will be the same as if we use social distancing and quarantine to flatten the curve for months on end. But in my proposal, we save the economy, small businesses, people’s savings, and we avoid a second Great Depression. How many additional lives would be lost from this despair? I suggest a lot more than the corona pandemic.
Flattening the curve indefinitely provides no timeline to end this pandemic. We would basically have to shut the economy until a cure is found. Of course some people will die, about the same number as would die in the flattening scenario.
Sweden has already decided against quarantine of its population and, in a way, is serving as a laboratory for this plan.
This is urgent: the world economy cannot survive another few weeks or months of shutdown. We are already seeing unemployment numbers that exceed those of the Great Depression. Let’s not voluntarily destroy decades of economic progress and workers’ livelihood and savings, not to mention the social unrest that would surely ensue from this hardship, breaking down the very essence of our society.
The path we are on will not save more lives than if we confront the coronavirus head on, without fear.
The writer is an Israeli entrepreneur and philanthropist.