On April 24, the state of Georgia began reopening the economy. Famously, this reopening included barber shops, beauty salons, massage parlors and tattoo parlors.
“There’s nothing about this that makes sense,” said former Democratic candidate for Governor Stacey Abrams. “The mayors of Atlanta, Albany, and Savannah have all questioned the wisdom of doing this. And the fact is the governor didn’t consult with mayors before making this decision.”
“I’m perplexed that we have opened up in this way,” said Atlanta Mayor Keisha Bottoms. “But as I look at the data and as I talk with our public health officials, I don’t see that it’s based on anything that’s logical.”
There’s enough data in now for us to contrast the trajectory of the disease in Georgia to its trajectory elsewhere in the country.
The data show no difference.
Does no difference mean it’s safe to reopen the economy? No. It means, in terms of safety, it doesn’t matter one way or another.
There may be no safe option for some time, and possibly not forever.
For all the talk of a cure, and of a specific treatment, and of a vaccine, this is not the first time we’ve faced a coronavirus. This is the third time.
In 2002, SARS, a coronavirus, broke out in Guangdong province in China and became a pandemic. Fortunately, it only infected 8,000 people worldwide. I say fortunately, because it killed 800, or ten percent of those it infected. Then, somehow, it went away. It just broke down.
As of today, there is no vaccine or specific treatment for SARS.
In 2012, MERS, another coronavirus, broke out in Saudi Arabia. This outbreak did not reach the level of a pandemic. 2,500 cases were subsequently identified, with 900 deaths, a death rate of 34 percent. Cases continue to arise, but it is thought all cases result from animal to human transmission.
As of today, there is no vaccine or specific treatment for MERS.
Given how deadly were the prior two variants of coronavirus, fears of this latest variant were well-founded upon its breakout.
While data continue to be collected, here’s what we seem to know: (1) this variant is highly transmissible; and, (2) this variant is much less deadly. It is more deadly than the seasonal flu; but, how deadly is difficult to say without better information regarding how many people in the general population have been infected.
Speaking of which, Stanford medical doctor/phd economist Jay Bhattacharya has just completed his serology survey of Major League Baseball (MLB) employees.
In previous serology surveys, he and others found a wide range of prevalence of the disease as indicated by antibodies in the blood, with the highest incidence rates being in places that are or were hot spots.
In this MLB study, he finds that the predominantly white collar workers that constitute the workforce of MLB, have a low incidence rate, only 3 percent.
This means the disease has been very uneven in its transmission through the general population. Thus far, it has hit certain places and certain socioeconomic strata hard, and has hardly impacted the rest of the population.
This finding furthermore means the effort to slow the spread has been successful. But, slowing the spread doesn’t mean we’ve stopped the spread, and it certainly doesn’t mean that we’ve beaten the disease.
Why, then, did we slow the spread? It was to put the infrastructure into place to deal with the disease, to care for the ill as best as we can, and to protect our health care workers. It was also to avoid our health care facilities from becoming inundated, and the possibility of civil disorder. These are the things we could accomplish, and we did.
At this point going forward, the best advice for everybody is to maintain a healthy immune system.