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Living With Covid: Continuing the Conversation

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Kevin Drum offers some suggestions as a conversation starter on “living with covid.”

Far too many people using that phrase actually mean “Shut up and sit down because I’m tired of dealing with this and want things back to where they were before the pandemic so I will act that way.” That’s not going to happen, and Kevin recognizes it in his post, but I need to say it again.

At the moment, with something like 600,000+ new infections a day, we must get prevalence down before we can start to think about a more stable situation. The good news is we may see a decline in infections fairly quickly, say by the end of January, as more people become immune via infection or vaccination. At that point, we need to look hard at what we need to do to keep it that way, because immunity via infection seems to wane fairly quickly. Vaccination, obviously, needs to continue and expand.

I like to think about what to do through the frame of decreasing the prevalence of the virus. Right now, every store, gym, movie theater you enter has some virus in the air. You’re breathing virus soup unless you have an N95 mask to strain it out. Or you may be contributing, because the virus can shed before symptoms appear. So masks indoors are essential until prevalence is down, and masks in close outdoor settings are probably a good idea.

People are the primary spreaders of the virus, so they need to stay out of public places as much as possible until prevalence is down. This is not happening. We are an incubation period or so past the holiday festivities, which are driving today’s numbers. I know people don’t like the various measures to keep them away from other people, but it’s the only way to keep the virus from finding new places to multiply.

Going back to school in person is turning out to be a disaster. Between the kids who don’t come because their parents keep them home, the teachers who are out sick, and the quarantines as kids or staff become sick, not much teaching or socialization is happening. I love ya, Kevin, but positivity in schools is nearer 20-30% than your 2-3%. That 2-3% is something that we might aim for by next September.

I’m not addressing Kevin’s world after the pandemic because there is so much we have to do to get there. Yes, we will eventually get to an equilibrium among the virus, community immunity, people’s behavior, and our built environment (mostly ventilation). We have done this with other viruses. Anti-vaxxers get away with not vaccinating for measles, say, because measles is endemic and we live with it, but its prevalence is low. When the unvaccinated encounter the virus, however, the results are like what we see now for covid. If we keep going the way we are, I estimate that equilibrium is at least a year away.

Cross-posted to Nuclear Diner

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