I Question Social Distancing. Is this heresy?

March 17, 2020

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
— Leon C. Megginson, summarizing concepts from the writings of Charles Darwin

“I didn't allow their side-eyes and annoyed looks to intimidate or stop me. I also would persist even if I thought I was being ignored. If I encountered something I didn't understand, I'd just ask. And I kept asking no matter whose calculations I was evaluating—an engineer's or the head of the entire department.”
— Katherine Johnson, NASA mathematician; from her autobiography, Reaching for the Moon

“That’s the trouble with a brain. It thinks sometimes more than you want it to.”
— Tiffany Aking

“Was this what turning forty did to a person? Removed your tolerance for bullshit? Did people run out of patience? Could it be that you only get so much in a lifetime and hers was all used up? Whatever, it was very awkward, very, very disruptive.”
—Marian Keyes, “The Brightest Star In The Sky”


Dear Family,

In haphazard fashion, most politicians and health authorities are currently telling us to stay away from each other as much as possible - not to protect ourselves from being exposed to this novel coronavirus _over time_, but to avoid exposing almost everyone _all at once_. Flattening the curve is not an attempt to lower the overall cases, because as far as anyone knows this isn’t possible to do, but to try to avoid hospitals receiving an influx of patients that would overwhelm their capacity. Exposure is going to happen, period, to each person in the world who is not quarantined, when a virus is at pandemic level (essentially, globally spreading on par with influenza. The only reason we don’t call flu a pandemic is because it’s been around for a while).

It is very difficult to hear these broad ideas and admonishments and not feel anxiety, and not to translate the math behind the “flatten the curve” idea into a seemingly slightly different but actually VERY different message: “Let’s practice social distancing to avoid getting this awful virus!”

“Flattening the curve” and “avoiding exposure” are two entirely different things. One may be achievable, with tremendous costs. The other is virtually impossible.

It is very unpopular to mention inevitable casualties during times like this, but I have noticed a distinct lack of of analysis concerning Covid 19 deaths, even while EVERYONE has opinions about the situation.

The statistics I’ve been looking for, for days, is data from a large cross-section of a population that has been tested to determine mortality rates for Covid 19. Yes, we have death counts from various countries, and certainly in some places there have been spikes in illnesses and deaths all at once. Yet still, overall USA cases of (and deaths from) this season’s influenza are hugely more than the worldwide Covid 19 cases to date, while testing has been ridiculously minimal and unorganized.

I don’t think this is besides the point. Statistics can be very deceiving - if you are only testing people who get ill enough to be hospitalized or go to their doctor, you see a terrifying picture. And I am well aware of the dangers of overburdening a healthcare system like ours, which is already dealing with a bad flu season plus all the rest of our modern health woes. But the level of Action and Reaction toward an illness has NEVER reached a point like this in the USA, so I believe we have to question our instincts to act and react out of fear at every turn. We need to know who is more likely to contract the virus and get worse symptoms or die...but especially, we need to know how many people _won’t_ get symptoms at all, in spite of exposure. A sad reality is that in some places, hospitals are ALREADY overburdened. This is extremely relevant. People have already and are going to continue to die from Covid 19, and social distancing is only possibly going to address _part_ of the cause of death (some people will die even WITH hospital beds and ventilators). But even that is not enough data to call upon citizens to act at this unprecedented scale: people die EVERY DAY from preventable causes, but public health actions simply can’t prevent them all. What makes Covid-19-curve-flattening worth prioritizing over every other potential cause of death right now?

Quick tangent concerning the USA’s healthcare system. Perhaps at some point our elected leaders will notice a few things: we have a shamefully profit-oriented “illness care” system, with a seriously small number of hospital beds https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2020/3/14/21179714/coronavirus-c… . A seriously high percentage of our population depends on prescription pharmaceuticals made by for-profit Pharma companies https://www.cbsnews.com/news/study-shows-70-percent-of-americans-take-p… , and these drugs in many cases increase this population’s risk of dying from all sorts of things, including Covid 19 https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/high-risk-com… . Illness is very profitable for a few people. Our government further hugely subsidizes Big Pharma and Big Food, and we have some of the poorest health outcomes in the industrialized world while spending the least money on food (our “medicine”! Hippocrates said so!) and the most on “healthcare.” It doesn’t help that our economic system has outsourced the manufacture of everything from ventilators to gloves to surgical masks…overseas. Don’t even get me started concerning the “captain” of this-here ship on which we’re sailing…

But anyway, as you will likely point out, RIGHT NOW we have an immediate crisis, and we all need to self-quarantine to avoid spreading a serious illness to those who are most at risk. Oops, wait…what is that we’re doing again? Oh yes, we need to avoid spreading the serious illness QUICKLY, and instead spread it slowly. How long should we remain inside our homes? How slow is slowly enough?

There are several problems with the social distancing approach, not least of which is the fact that our entire economy is about to implode in a completely unprecedented way. The casualties are mounting every day. Where are the numbers that justify such extreme behavior? We have to have those numbers, in my opinion, before putting entire countries, states, and counties on lockdown. We really need to be sure about the importance of prioritizing “saving lives” from Covid 19 above all other relative risks, because there are a LOT of relative risks in this world. Even if the risk of dying from this new virus is ten times that of dying from a regular flu, that STILL means that upwards of 95% of people who get sick will get well again. Even though certain populations are at much higher risk than others, it still might not make sense to shut down the country because of it. It might…but it might not.

It might be relevant to try to extrapolate, if we had those afore-wished-for numbers, whether proper hand-washing https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/09/030916074111.htm and increased (or made actually existing) sick leave to encourage ill people to be able to stay home and recuperate, combined with actual quarantines for at-risk populations, might possibly be a better intervention than wholesale and ill-defined “self quarantine” of an entire country.

Few experts in the field of infectious disease are arguing that “containing the spread” of this new corona virus is possible. When something is as contagious as the flu, which this definitely seems to be, everyone in the world WILL be exposed sooner than later - they will not all get sick due to their exposure, however, and even fewer will die. The experts seem to be generally arguing for “self-isolation” until we either develop natural or temporary immunity, or a vaccine is developed (which is problematic for many reasons - just look into the failed earlier attempts to create a corona virus vaccine).

Even though there IS a risk of dying from this new virus, we already have experience with normalizing such a risk. We do not cancel an entire nation’s economic and social engine to “contain” influenza, however, despite its very contagious nature, its disproportionate mortality rate among certain at-risk populations, and the many thousands of deaths it causes each year (especially this year, which continues to be a “bad” season, with CDC estimates of flu hospitalizations currently at 370,000 – 670,000, while flu deaths are at 22,000-55,000 so far). Infectious disease experts would laugh at the idea of trying to do that!

So, while many civil liberties are poised to be taken away from us, and our retirement accounts disappear, and nobody encourages much in the way of questioning the lifestyles and political leaders that have made us so incredibly susceptible to chronic as well as new diseases, we absolutely HAVE to ask the question: is haphazard social distancing actually for the public good? Our hospitals have too few beds, and too few ventilators. We have a nation that includes a huge number of elderly and obese people who are at a greater risk of dying from Covid 19, along with those who have lung, heart, and other chronic health problems. Many of these same populations are more susceptible to flu infections as well, and this often strains the USA’s healthcare system. But does increased susceptibility to a virus for specific populations mean we should shut down a nation, close schools so that many doctors and nurses can’t go to work at all for lack of childcare, and tell every citizen to stay away from others for an indefinite period, with an unclear level of caution to be exercised during the times when we must leave the house to procure, say, extra toilet paper?

https://centerforinquiry.org/video/discussing-the-coronavirus-outbreak-… Paul Offit, who is not exactly a bastion of alternative medicine, is the first doctor I’ve found who is finding and talking about numbers that I’ve been seeking. In South Korea, the only country to pull off systematic testing to date, healthcare workers screened 100,000 citizens. This allowed them to ask: how many people are healthy? How many have an infection with zero symptoms? How many have moderate or severe sicknesses from which they have recovered? At this point, the answer to the question, “how many people have died?” can actually be in context. From their sample size of 100,000 people, researchers found that Covid 19 cases have a mortality rate that is not much higher than influenza.

I do not understand how our political leaders can begin encouraging and enforcing draconian “social distancing” measures without having tested citizens to evaluate a baseline for this disease the way South Korea has done. Surely this testing would cost less than the dow jones dipping to recession levels in less than a week!

Incidentally, Korea has been dealing with a spike in Covid 19 cases WITHOUT overwhelming their healthcare system. They have 12 hospital beds per 1000 citizens; the USA has 2.8. The USA also has higher rates of obesity and other chronic diseases than Korea, and of course that must be evaluated as well. But enforcing social isolation while waiting for a vaccine to save us all (it sure will help one or two lucky pharmaceutical corporations!), while canceling all social interaction outside of our homes, without seriously pursuing necessary data - seems foolhardy.

Meanwhile, unless you’re under actual and strict quarantine for the indefinite future, we’re all waiting to see what this virus does when it arrives at the gates of our bodies, and those of our loved ones. How will our immune systems handle it? Isn’t it interesting that sometimes one person in the family will be very ill after having caught a bug, but another person in the same family will have the same thing, with barely any symptoms? Same infectious microbe, vastly different response. This is so fascinating to me! https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/notes-from-yesteryear/germ-t…

Halfway through this article is a map showing the geographical/latitudinal distribution of Covid 19 cases, by severity: https://www.scmp.com/news/china/science/article/3074970/coronavirus-bec…

Researchers often attribute the distribution of severe virus outbreaks to the varying “temperature and humidity" of local climate, but this alone doesn’t explain many features and the geographical distribution of epidemics. This paper, concerning vitamin A and vitamin D ratios and virus expression in individuals, might have some clues about features of that map in the preceding link: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/isrn/2013/246737/

And…let’s give up on the ridiculous idea of curfews, and instead encourage sunbathing: https://www.zerohedge.com/health/covid-19-sun-lesson-1918-influenza-pan…

If I were in the Netherlands, I would sign up for this experiment much more quickly than I would for any rushed-through-without-safety-testing vaccine for Covid 19: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/coronavirus-dutch-adopt-co…

In the upcoming weeks, I reserve the right to change my mind about this corona virus outbreak. But meanwhile, I will be spending time outside every day, cooking lots of nourishing food for my family, and I will not personally be avoiding exposure to other people apart from commonsense thorough hand washing and not-sneezing-on-thy-neighbor practices. I will, however, be respectful of anyone who feels the need to quarantine themselves due to their own or a family member’s sickness symptoms, or their desire to avoid exposure to potential coronavirus or other contagious illnesses.

I would love to hear what you think about all this, and what you and your family are doing during this unusual time!

Sending love, and hope that you and your family are staying healthy and resilient,