Editor’s Note: Jeffrey D. Sachs is professor and director of the Columbia University Center for Sustainable Development. The opinions expressed here are his.
As if Donald Trump’s irresponsibility weren’t already a national tragedy, the White House now seems to favor a controversial approach to Covid-19 that threatens to bring nothing less than massive suffering.
On Tuesday, senior administration officials said they were receptive to the pursuit of ‘collective immunity’, an approach touted by a group of scientists who released what they call the ‘Great Barrington statement’ .
What they offer: The idea is that the federal government should let the pandemic run its course until most of the population is infected and has apparently developed antibodies to ward off future infections. Typical estimates are that 70% or more of the population would be infected this way.
According to this idea, vulnerable groups would be targeted for “targeted protection”, for example, by introducing additional precautions such as frequent Covid-19 testing to avoid infections of older people living in nursing homes. The rest of the population “should be immediately allowed to return to normal life,” the statement said.
What the experts say: This approach goes strongly against the overwhelming consensus of public health experts, including Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The new Covid-19 approach would undoubtedly add massively to the suffering in the United States in a very short period of time.
The mistake: The idea that we shouldn’t try to control infections other than those of vulnerable groups is based on a complete misunderstanding of the real choices facing the United States – or any country for that matter.
The main mistake is to believe that the only alternative to economic shutdown is to let the virus spread widely among the population. Instead, a basic set of public health measures is enough, as many other countries have shown, to control the spread of the virus.
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