What does “we have to live with Covid” mean?

Periodically, someone announces, as if it ends the discussion, that we’ll just have to live with Covid. But that doesn’t end the discussion, it only begins it. What does living with Covid mean?

To some people, it means, end the lockdowns, burn the masks, and get together in an unventilated space with a few thousand of our closest friends so we can all get shitfaced and dance. Because that’s what normal looked like, at least in retrospect, and we need to get back to normal.

To others, it means that we keep wearing our masks and hoping to hell other people do the same, because someone out there is contagious and someone else is vulnerable. It means staying out of closed, crowded spaces. It means admitting that we only liked six of those few thousand closest friends anyway and haven’t missed them this past year and a half.

But forget what we think. I’m making it up anyway. Let’s turn to the experts. 

An article in the Medical Xpress says that we may never reach full herd immunity–that point where so many people are immune to a disease that those who aren’t immune are protected by not being exposed to it, ever. 

Irrelevant photo: poppies

Why aren’t we likely to reach that point? Because Covid immunity seems to wane over time. Because the disease continues to evolve, especially where unvaccinated groups of people create pools that the virus can spread through and evolve in. And because animals can harbor the virus and pass it back to humans. 

There may be conflicting arguments that say we will reach herd immunity, but I haven’t found them. Let’s go with what we’ve got. 

The article’s authors say that even if we don’t reach full herd immunity, we could still reach practical herd immunity, allowing us to go back to near-normal levels of activity. Their measure of near normality seems to be how far a country can open up without overwhelming the health-care system. It depresses the hell out of me that we measure safety not by the deaths and disabilities the disease would cause but by how many cases of it a health system can sustain, but–well, there it is, written in black and white. That’s what happens, I guess, when you enter the land of policy making.

How many people need to be immune to reach practical herd immunity? It depends on the level of restrictions–or adaptations, if you want a more user-friendly word–we’re willing to live with. Masks? Contact tracing? Mass testing of asymptomatic people? Measures to stamp out outbreaks? 

It’s interesting that although this is a consideration, how many deaths and disabilities we’re willing to live with isn’t. 

Practical herd immunity also depends on vaccination levels: “Some estimates,” the article says, “suggest that we may need two-thirds of the population to be protected either by successful vaccination or natural infection. If 90 percent of the population is eligible for vaccination, and vaccines are 85 percent effective against infection, we can obtain this two thirds with about 90 percent of the eligible population being vaccinated or infected naturally.”

Don’t let those numbers scare you. They’re safely contained within quotation marks.

There’s still a possibility that new variants will escape our immunity, but the fewer outbreaks we have, the fewer chances we’ll give the disease to reach escape velocity.

And we’ll all live happily–if cautiously–ever after.

I hope.

 

The cost of herd immunity in cold, hard cash

But if you’re in love with the idea of restricting nothing and either pursuing herd immunity or in letting Covid circulate freely because it’s no worse than the flu–or if you want to argue with someone who is–academics have calculated the cost to Western Australia if it had pursued a herd immunity strategy: They say the state saved $4.9 billion and avoided 1,700 deaths in a year by locking down hard. It also prevented 4,500 hospitalizations.

In Britain, it was the cost of a hard lockdown that made the government hesitate, repeatedly, to either stamp out or contain the virus. It sounds like it was an expensive savings.

 

Vaccination news

In Britain 52% of the people who said they’d never get vaccinated have now gotten vaccinated, along with 84% of the people who said they weren’t likely to. The percentages shift when you break the population down into religious and ethnic subgroups, but in all of them the trend is in the direction of vaccination.

Part of the change, I’m sure, comes from work that’s being done with community leaders and work to counter misinformation campaigns, but I can’t help wondering if a kind of herd immunity isn’t at work here too: People around us have been vaccinated. We see that keys don’t stick to their faces and that axe heads don’t pursue them down the street, so we figure they probably haven’t been magnetized after all–or at least not heavily. There probably hasn’t been enough time for them to demonstrate that they can still get pregnant–at least those of them who could’ve gotten pregnant in the first place. That–allow me to remind you–excludes all males of the species and enough categories of females that I won’t list them. Even the real but very rare serious side effects of some vaccines–well, they’re very rare. Have they happened to anyone we know? Um, no.

It’s an odd thing, but a 1 in 100,000 chance looks more likely to happen if it happens to someone you know and less likely to if it doesn’t. Even if the numbers don’t care who your friends and acquaintances are.

Humans do seem to be herd animals. We see people around us getting vaccinated and going on with their lives, not visibly marked by the vaccine, and it starts to look like a safe thing to do. Even a smart one. 

*

The Netherlands is offering pickled herring to people who get vaccinated. Traditionally, the year’s first barrel of Hollandse nieuwe is auctioned off to raise money for a good cause, but since that couldn’t happen this year it was given, “on behalf of the Dutch people” to the head of the health services. Other barrels were sent to vaccination sites and people are being offered herring when they show up.

 

Counterfeit and Covid

Counterfeit Covid vaccines, tests, and vaccination passports are becoming big businesses. Vaccines and test kits are sold through online pharmacies. Amazon, Etsy, and I’m sure other places sell vaccine passports, with no proof of vaccination required. 

Why not? Everything’s available online. This Christmas, I bought my partner a certificate making her a minister in the Church of the 400 Rabbits. All I had to do was make a donation (it went to a food bank) and print it myself.

Although the article I found talked about the danger of counterfeits infiltrating the supply chain that countries use for genuine vaccines and tests, it didn’t say it had happened. So we’re talking about individuals–people made desperate enough by the world’s uneven rollout that they’re willing to roll the dice and hope that luck will lead them to the real thing.

 

Odd ways to fight Covid

Okay, just one odd way, but the plural made a better subhead. Scientists have developed a sticky wall surface that uses ingredients in hair conditioners to trap the aerosolized droplets that contribute so heavily to the spread of Covid. 

The theory works like this: Droplets bounce off indoor surfaces all the time. Add sticky stuff to your plexiglass divider, though, and their bouncing days are done. 

The developers coated a barrier and it captured almost all the aerosolized microdroplets and 80% of plain old droplet-size droplets. (The comparison point for those numbers is an uncoated barrier. I have no idea how you compare them.) The coated barrier didn’t need cleaning any more often than the uncoated one did, and once it was wiped down with water the coating could be reapplied.

It also works on fabric, concrete, and metal, turning low-touch surfaces into Covid fighters.

This won’t eliminate the need for ventilation, though. We’ll still need air filtration systems and open windows. But it does give us another tool. 

The bad news? A lot more work needs to be done to confirm its usefulness and get it authorized. 

“We understood that the current pandemic may end before this concept is implemented,” said engineering professor Jiaxing Huang. “It may or may not be used now. But next time, when an outbreak like this happens, I think we will be better equipped.”

29 thoughts on “What does “we have to live with Covid” mean?

  1. I think people are forgetting what it’s like to live with contagious diseases – which humanity has been doing throughout history. Even when I was a kid, in the ’80s, there were frequent outbreaks of mumps, measles and German measles at primary schools. My great aunt had polio as a child, just after the First World War, and there were polio outbreaks right into the 1950s. Diptheria was another one. TB was rife well into the 20th century – it’s not that long since you still saw old buses with “No spitting” signs on them. And that’s without even mentioning flu. Smallpox is the only disease which has ever been fully eradicated. We seem to be at a point where people assume that science can wave a magic wand and make diseases go away, but, unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. So, yes, we are going to have to live with Covid, and find ways to do that – it now seems very odd that you had “No spitting” signs on buses (makes you wonder how many people thought it was OK to spit on buses to start with!), and we’ll be doing other things which would have seemed odd a couple of years ago! We can’t keep sending entire classes home from school for 10 days every time one child tests positive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We could, I think, shift over to tests that give fewer false positives. That would surely help. The US’s CDC criticized the British lateral flow tests (I’m not sure why it decided to butt in), to which the UK replied, “Butt out. We like ’em.”

      What worries me is that for some people, living with the disease more or less means going on their merry way and accepting a certain level of death and disability rather than adapting by wearing masks, ventilating, doing all the other things that can be done. We have to stop spitting on the buses.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think it’s a case of getting things to be socially unacceptable. People moaned about having to wear seatbelts, but it became socially unacceptable not to wear them. The same with the ban on smoking in public places. If that happened now, someone at Oxford would be claiming that the “smoking community” was the victim of “haters”, and “cancelling” every minor celeb who’d said in 1973 that they didn’t like the smell of smoke, but people had more sense in the 1990s … but the point is that smoking in a pub or on a bus became unacceptable (thankfully). And, presumably, so did spitting on buses in the 1950s!

        Liked by 1 person

        • I remember when the car industry argued that it would go broke if it had to install seatbelts. And then, oddly enough, it didn’t go broke. And I seem to remember the indoor smoking ban creating a lot of moaning–and a lot of claims that restaurants and bars would go broke.

          It’s interesting, how powerful quiet community pressure is–along with force of habit.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting as ever Ellen.
    I have to admit, we are feeling almost as if we are back to normal. We have had friends round for garden parties since we were allowed to legally and it is a joy to see our friends. We would hope that by the colder months we will be allowed to have them inside. But it is a delight to have events in our garden.
    As for nightclubs, music festivals and the like – we are past all that anyway. I don’t think we were ever all that overjoyed about the experience of being in a crowd of thousands of people when we were younger.

    I know it is different because this virus has the potential to effect everyone…but I sometimes think of areas in health in which people do have more freedom of choice…and how it effects the health service – choosing to smoke, over-drink, over-eat, and not exercise – these lifestyle choices must put a considerable amount of burden on the healthcare system each year. I presume that if the health care system feel overwhelmed by the cases related to smoking or obesity they would feed that back to the government in hope of more stringent laws or steeper taxes to try to lower the statistics and relieve some pressure on the health service.

    I wonder whether with regards to this virus, there may come a point when people will be allowed to use more freedom of choice. Perhaps some people will feel safer choosing to avoid indoor events and crowds on a more permanent basis? Whereas others will be happy to mingle without any social distancing or extra hygiene measures and not care about the possibility of infection,

    Whenever legal requirements change, I think that people may eventually have to just respect that some will always prefer to be cautious and may feel safer wearing facemasks even if they are not mandatory, whereas others will embrace being able to abandon all restrictions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You raise an interesting point. Let me divide it into two parts. The pressure on the health system first. The difference between the pandemic and, say, diet, drugs, and drinking is that the pandemic came on quickly, so that no health system had time to gear up for it. The three Ds came on slowly, or predated the health systems. Britain’s health system drastically needs investment–it’s been whittled away at for easily ten years now–but no health system was prepared for the tsunami that was Covid.

      Individual choice: The problem, I think, there is that we’re dealing with a contagious disease. One person’s individual choice can make another person sick–or force them out of public life altogether, if they have that dubious luxury. I wish we could leave this up to people’s individual choice, but I don’t think it’s going to work.

      Like

  3. The world has been fighting contagious diseases since the time of the Pharaohs! Covid is just another contagious disease. What has the world done to combat these diseases in the past? Improve hygiene and vaccinations. Improving hygiene has saved the most lives since it has been around since the Pharaohs! Clean water is the best example like eliminating washing diapers next to a well as in the London cholera epidemic that showed that cholera is transmitted in the water. Now the problem is clean air. Most modern contagions are transmitted through the air like covid. What is needed is killing the bugs in the air before they enter into humans. Sticky walls might help but in a crowded room, I doubt that they will stop transmission before the bugs get into another host. That is why I believe technology like far UVC germicidal lamps has the best chance of improving the hygiene of the air we breathe! Unfortunately, the cheap production of these lamps is still not here but will be in the future and would reduce the need for masks in public places.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought the sticky wall would interest you.

      My sense is that we’ll need to throw everything we have at this–improved ventilation; ways to clean the air; quite possibly masks as well, as a long-term thing.

      Like

  4. One of the questions that I think we face is what happens if you have regions where a significant percent of people are vaccinated, while in other parts of the country the anti-vaxxers hold sway. Likely that will be the case in the U.S. Can we achieve heard immunity in Virginia, for example, while new variations of the virus are raging among the unvaccinated in Alabama?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good question, and one other countries face as well–although for the most part not because of determined anti-vax sentiment. At least as far as I know it’s not. In Britain, the Delta variant outbreaks have a regional cast but seem to be traveling from region to region. No surprise, since people over 18 are only just now eligible for vaccines. And even if we gather up all of them, we’ve still got the kids to contend with–they’re an unvaccinated pool where the virus can circulate and mutate.

      And then there are people coming in–eventually–from other countries. How long are we willing to limit that? I ask not because I think any country should open that up right now but because I don’t trust our government to make a sensible decision.

      I think I just argued myself into saying that no, we probably can’t reach herd immunity in Virginia if the virus is raging in Alabama. Or not any kind of reliable immunity, anyway.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Contributing to the problem in the US is the fact that many of the anti- people – especially in positions of power (eg governors) haven’t lost anyone close to them. Or else just don’t care if it isn;t about themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ellen,
    Here’s another bit of COVID news. And how about the controversy where the virus came from or was purposely created! Enough to drive us crazy.

    News today in the US.
    4,000 vaccinated people in Massachusetts tested positive for COVID.
    “Breakthroughs are expected, and we need to better understand who’s at risk and whether people who have a breakthrough can transmit the virus to others,” he continued. “In some cases, they’ll be shedding such low levels of the virus and won’t be transmitting to others.”

    And we are mask-free in CA. I’m getting back to normal with an eye out for germs everywhere. Not new behavior for me. Flu virus, Covid, strep, staf, etc—those bugs are everywhere. Have a stress-free week! 📚🎶 Christine

    Liked by 1 person

    • My sense is that the flap over the virus’s origin is being so thoroughly hijacked for political gain that I’m going to wait it out until something sensible and solid comes out. If it ever does. Hell, they still don’t know the origin of the WWI flu pandemic, so there’s no guarantee that anyone will trace this one down with any certainty.

      I’ll sit this dance out, I think.

      I hope they’re right about breakthrough cases shedding viruses at low levels, but it isn’t anything I’ve seen in print yet. I use a limited range of sources and could easily miss something, but I’d like confirmation on that one. It’s too damn convenient to take at face value. Be careful. It’s crazy out there.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Um, gee, that’s an important question that I never thought to ask, but she says absolutely she can. If the bunnies can pay. (I guess that’s what makes it a legitimate church: It’s gone commercial.) She performed some memorable marriages during hare mating system, because they insist on boxing during the ceremony.

      Where was I when all this was going on and why didn’t I know about it, thank you very much?

      Liked by 1 person

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