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Wack: Debunking COVID-19 myths and urging continued adherence to guidelines | COMMENTARY

You can do this Carroll County. We’re heading into the winter, people are moving indoors into closer proximity, and inevitably, as predicted back in the spring, COVID-19 cases are rising again, here and all across the state. But this won’t be like the spring, because we’ve learned, adapted, and are better positioned to finally get control of the pandemic.

According to the Maryland Department of Health, Carroll continues having one of the lowest case rates in the state, and still does much better than any of our neighboring counties. This isn’t because of our well-kept lawns, our youth sports programs, or beautiful countryside. It is because, for the most part, we’re all following the rules, wearing masks, and keeping our distance. It works, and our low case numbers prove that.

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Unfortunately, there are still a lot of lies in circulation about COVID-19 that require forceful debunking. The last thing we need is people letting down their guard as we enter this next, hopefully final, difficult phase.

First, hospitals and doctors do not get paid more for COVID-19 cases. This has been in circulation for a while, but recently resurfaced on the campaign trail. It is not only factually incorrect, but it also implies that the army of health care professionals putting themselves at risk caring for our community are somehow personally benefiting from the death and suffering. It’s disgusting and despicable.

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“Herd immunity” is still not a viable strategy. Rather, it is a concession of failure. We have so many tools we haven’t used, or used effectively yet to combat this and keep businesses open and save jobs. People who talk about the economic costs of trying to contain the pandemic are themselves overlooking the costs of the death and disability from allowing the virus to spread unchecked. The economic suffering we currently endure is mostly a function of the incompetent response so far.

The economy won’t recover until we have the pandemic under control. “Lockdown” vs. “save the economy” is a false dichotomy, a choice between two extremes that don’t exist in reality.

We won’t need to go back to restrictions of the spring, now that we know better how the virus is transmitted. There are many, many options between no restrictions, and the limits we experienced in the spring. Combined with aggressive, generous economic relief for at-risk businesses, and there is no reason we can’t cope with some targeted restrictions that minimize adverse economic impacts.

We still don’t have universally available, reliable, and inexpensive testing. That by itself is the one of the biggest failures that must be corrected expeditiously. No effective containment strategy is possible without testing, a problem most other advanced countries have solved.

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We still don’t know the long-term effects of infection. We don’t have even a year of data yet, but already there is evidence of chronic organ damage even in people who had mild cases.

We still don’t know enough about what it takes to develop effective immunity. How long do antibodies persist? Is it possible for an individual to have multiple COVID infections? Put another way, what does it take to develop effective immunity? These are all still open questions. Antibodies may not be enough. This is why the “herd immunity” strategy is such wildly speculative gamble, the costs of which are still unknown.

It will take many months to start climbing out of the deep hole we’re in. We have been dithering since February, wasting time, energy, money, and lives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must rebuild its credibility. A national strategy addressing all facets of the problem must be implemented.

The bad news is we have a tough winter ahead of us. The good news is we can now start implementing a sane, science based public health strategy that will get this under control, setting us up for a return to normal in 2021. We will all get there, working together.

Robert Wack writes from Westminster. He can be reached at Robert.p.wack@gmail.com.

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