More people will die as a result of COVID-19 because we closed the schools than would have if we’d kept the schools open or if we’d brought the kids back to school in summer.
That is part of the message from Knut M. Wittkowski, who headed the Department of Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Research Design at The Rockefeller University in New York, when he was interviewed around April 6. (The Rockefeller University is a private graduate college focusing on biological and medical sciences, providing doctoral and postdoctoral education and with which 36 Nobel laureates have been affiliated.) In effect, the same message was given by experts cited by 1889 Institute in a March 24 statement decrying the plan to turn out public schools for the year.
Dr. Wittkowski explains in detail that “herd immunity” is critical, indeed absolutely essential, to end a respiratory disease pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when at least 80 percent of a population has been exposed to the disease and developed antibodies necessary to become immune. When this occurs, an infected, symptomatic individual is unlikely to infect anybody else. Thus, the remaining 20 percent of the population are protected, without a vaccine and without having contracted the virus.
The quickest way to have developed herd immunity would have been to keep children in school so that their close proximity would cause them to pass the virus around and develop immunity. Instead, we’ve done the opposite, and more people than otherwise are likely to die.
It was known, very early on, that COVID-19 was, by far, hardest on the elderly (as are all respiratory infections, but COVID-19 is unusually nonlethal for the young) and on people with other illnesses. With public service announcements from government giving isolation suggestions for vulnerable sub-populations, they could have (and still possibly could if the right actions are taken, but it may be too late) waited out the development of herd immunity, and they could be emerging from isolation by now. Public service announcements would have (and could) provide advice for how caregivers and family members could care for the vulnerable among us.
As it is, Dr. Wittkowski points out that we are increasingly likely to suffer another bloom of COVID-19 disease this fall, for lack of herd immunity. Consequently, people will die who would otherwise not have died. Respiratory disease inevitably gets passed around among family members, unless they are well educated on how to prevent it, one way being to go outside rather than to isolate together inside a home. In multi-generational households, the government’s shelter in place advice (and orders, in some states) have actually put the most vulnerable at greater risk, not lesser. In some states, non-essential business shut down orders have closed dry-cleaners, where viruses on clothes would have been killed. These foolish policies have prolonged COVID-19’s existence in many instances.
At the time of this writing, official statistics on deaths due to COVID-19 in the United States indicate that no one under the age of 25 has been killed by it. That is not to say that no one under 25 has fallen ill from the virus or that some have not been gravely ill. But clearly, this pandemic disease is more dangerous the older one gets. The risks COVID-19 present for school-age children is lower than the risks they face from flu. None of this nuance has been taken into account (nuance that has been known for some time) in the liberty-robbing general policies that have been pursued up to now by all levels of government.
As Dr. Wittowski pointed out, Americans, and many in other countries, have been way too docile in allowing their freedoms to be compromised. People should be asking their representatives hard questions, educating themselves regarding what ALL the epidemiological experts are saying. As the good doctor reminds us, if we don’t stand up for our own rights, those rights will be forgotten.

Byron Schlomach is 1889 Institute Director and can be contacted at [email protected].

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.