Harvard study warns of prolonged lockdown

Louisiana deaths 4th in U.S.; Football this year?

Harvard University epidemiologists are warning that eradicating COVID-19 from the United States may take a lot longer than anyone wants to hear. As Louisiana broke above the milestone of over 1,000 Coronavirus deaths this week, Science magazine published the findings of Harvard researchers who summarized that Americans could see recurring COVID outbreaks as far out as the year 2024.

“The total incidence of COVID-19 illness over the next five years will depend critically upon whether or not it enters into regular circulation after the initial pandemic wave,” the report hypothesized, “which in turn depends primarily upon the duration of immunity that SARS-CoV-2 infection imparts.” (The full report can be found online at: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2020/04/14/science.abb5793....)

But researchers warned that relaxing social distancing now could backfire. They proposed some form of social distancing may be required for two years.

“Less effective one-time distancing efforts may result in a prolonged single-peak epidemic,” the epidemiology team stated, “with the extent of strain on the healthcare system and the required duration of distancing depending on the effectiveness. Intermittent distancing may be required into 2022 unless critical care capacity is increased substantially or a treatment or vaccine becomes available. The authors are aware that prolonged distancing, even if intermittent, is likely to have profoundly negative economic, social, and educational consequences. Our goal in modeling such policies is not to endorse them but to identify likely trajectories of the epidemic under alternative approaches, identify complementary interventions such as expanding ICU capacity and identifying treatments to reduce ICU demand, and to spur innovative ideas to expand the list of options to bring the pandemic under long-term control.”

Louisiana Congressman and Republican Whip Steve Scalise, who spent three months in critical care and surgeries after a would-be assassin shot him in 2017, said the Catch-22 is balancing safety with saving the economy.

“Through social distancing, we’ve seen we can reduce the spread of the disease but we also know you can’t keep the economy closed for 6 months or to 2024. There won’t be an economy left,” Scalise told reporters at Thursday’s daily press briefing in Baton Rouge. He was invited to attend by Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards.

“Do we want to see 25% unemployment?” Scalise asked. “That’s not where we want to go so we’ve got to be smarter about it. It’s not a question of whether the disease is going away. Just like the flu comes back every season, we expect it [COVID-19] is going to boomerang back in the fall sometime. So you’ve got to take those precautions now.”

Governor Edwards added, “We have not had discussions with Vice President Mike Pence or the President or any conversations about the Harvard study. But I’m sure that as these studies come out, they will inform the CDC [Center for Disease Control] in terms of the guidance they give us.”

Louisiana’s Department of Health conducted its own study to model infection rates based on three scenarios not using drug therapies: a “no lockdown restriction” baseline, which purported to spike last week; one using “social distancing” alone; and finally a lockdown “shelter in place” scenario that spans into summer. Naturally, the projection curves of infections and hospitalizations flatten and are much less severe as more people stay home and out of circulation. Dr. Alex Billioux, Louisiana’s Assistant Secretary of Health, said the clampdown has worked to choke the spread of Coronavirus even though Louisiana ranks fourth in the nation in the number of deaths per capita.

Governor Edwards, using LDH’s projections and working with Don Pierson, Secretary of Louisiana Economic Development, Thursday announced the creation of “Resilient Louisiana Commission,” a state commission charged with ramping up policies for how and when to restart the state’s economy. The 18-member panel includes Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser and will be co-chaired by Pierson and health care leader Terrie Sterling, a Baton Rouge consultant and retired Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System executive.

In particular, scenarios for crowd control are being studied, looking beyond summer to football season just four months away.

Congressman Scalise told reporters the sports economy is paramount especially in Louisiana. “You can imagine the NFL, the NBA, and sports organizations are all having conversations about how can you have large gatherings? That’s their business model,” he said. “They’ve got very smart people, as we speak, working on really good ways to come back while safely allowing people to go back into a sports arena to watch the Saints play, to watch LSU play. We’re all talking to each other. Everybody’s got really good ideas on how to do it but the real remedy is to get the economy opened back up as soon as we possibly can in a safe way.”

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