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Stanford study should prompt a re-evaluation

OPINION

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

Preliminary results of the Stanford antibody (seroprevalence) study were released this morning, and the results should prompt some re-evaluation of our strategies for fighting COVID-19.

The study found that the number of infected people is 50 to 85 times higher than the number of confirmed cases. In Alachua County, that would translate to over 10,000 cases so far – with 27 hospitalizations and zero deaths.

All of the measures taken so far have been based on “flattening the curve,” making sure that hospital resources will not be overwhelmed. We know now that there is plenty of hospital capacity in Alachua County and in Florida. The biggest concern was the number of ventilators, and states are now giving ventilators back to the federal government.

Every argument against lockdowns has been countered with the claim that any relaxation in restrictions will kill people because, without good data, we thought it was possible that 3% or more of infected people would die.

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What the Stanford study shows is that the overall death rate so far in Florida could be less than 0.06% (the seasonal flu death rate is 0.1%).

However, we also know now that older people disproportionately have serious complications from the virus. The chart below shows the distribution of deaths by age in Florida.

Reports from Europe suggest that half the deaths there were in long-term care facilities. The Miami Herald is reporting that 20% of the COVID-19 deaths in Florida have been in long-term care facilities.

It is clear that we need to refocus the strategy. Focusing on the whole population has resulted in a reduction of availability of medical resources as hospital staff are furloughed and doctors’ offices close. Who knows how many diagnoses of serious diseases are being delayed by fear of going to medical offices and hospitals?

Delivery services for groceries and other necessities are overwhelmed.

We should get healthy young people (maybe – what a concept – let people decide for themselves if they are “healthy” and “young,” with the caveat that if you’re obese, you have a higher risk of COVID-19 complications even if you think you’re healthy) get back to work and get all aspects of our society functioning again. That will free up resources for the people who really need to be at home.

A lot of the plans for getting back to work are predicated on availability of testing. Do we require testing for every employee who works during flu season? Similarly, we shouldn’t require testing for every employee who chooses to work now. Until tests are much more widely available, they should be made available to long-term care facilities, hospitals, first responders, caregivers, and other people who work or live in close contact with the elderly.

Yes, young people will get sick, a few will go to the hospital, and even fewer will die. It happens every year during flu season, and we somehow go on.

All of the resources that are now focused on getting food, education, and everything else to a population that has been instructed to stay home should now be focused on helping older people stay comfortably at home.