A Scientific Explanation of Why Shutdowns Are Useless

For the third time, Peter Robinson interviews Dr. Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford Medical School for Uncommon Knowledge. Dr. Bhattacharya is cogent and articulate, and this conversation, a little under an hour long, is well worth your time. Among other things, he reports on a study he has just completed of COVID-19 in employees of major league baseball.

Dr. Bhattacharya brings bad news: 1) Only a small percentage of Americans, less than one percent in his study, maybe two or three percent nationwide, have had COVID-19. Herd immunity requires something like 70 percent or 80 percent to have antibodies. So the disease has a very long way to go before it has run its course. 2) There is no vaccine for COVID-19 on the horizon, and there may never be one. 3) The shutdowns that have paralyzed the developed world have, to some degree, slowed the spread of the disease, at tremendous cost. But that only delays the inevitable. There will never be a time when it is “safe” to stop the lockdowns. The disease isn’t going away. 4) Dr. Bhattacharya is also eloquent in describing the disastrous human toll, in lives and misery, that the shutdowns have inflicted around the globe.

On the other hand, Dr. Bhattacharya has good news, too. The fatality rate from COVID-19 is low–worldwide, somewhere between 0.1 percent and 0.5 percent, probably closer to the low end of that range. The typical seasonal flu is said to have a fatality rate of around 0.1 percent. So COVID-19 is probably somewhat worse than the average flu virus.

Further, another of Dr. Bhattacharya’s studies found that 70 percent of those who contract COVID-19 are asymptomatic. That is, they wouldn’t know they had had the virus if they weren’t tested. That percentage may be low. Studies of prisoners in several states have found that more than 90 percent of those who tested positive were asymptomatic. So the good news is, when you get COVID-19–and it is highly probable that you will get it, regardless of what governments do–it is unlikely to do you any harm, and you probably won’t know you had it.

This is me talking, not Dr. Bhattacharya, but it follows, I think, from all of the above: The conventionally posed choice between fighting the disease and salvaging our economy is entirely wrong. The choice is not disease vs. economy. The disease is here, and there is nothing governments can do to stop it. (They can, of course, close down access to nursing homes, a mixed blessing if you are elderly.) The real choice is between the disease with a flourishing economy, and the disease with a devastated economy. The disease is a constant.

Here is the interview: