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Covid-19 and the young… September 25, 2020

Posted by guestposter in Uncategorized.
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One of the most interesting tropes to emerge recently is the idea that the young are immune from the effects of Covid-19. The Atlantic notes how this has gained momentum in recent days since the Trump White House has gained an advisor who is pushing that line very hard.

“It doesn’t matter if younger, healthier people get infected,” Atlas said in a July interview with San Diego’s KUSI news station. “I don’t know how often that has to be said. They have nearly zero risk of a problem from this … When younger, healthier people get infected, that’s a good thing.”

In the IT today Mark Paul talks about the impact on youth employment arguing that the young are blamed for spreading the virus but the responses on a medical front impact overly harshly on them. There’s a truth in the fact that younger workers are impacted badly, that said most workers are throughout the economy – I know personally a number of people young, middle-aged and older who have lost their jobs this last fortnight and others whose employment seems shaky. But tellingly not once does he stop to consider what the health impacts on young people are. He takes it as read that’s not an issue at all to be concerned about.

Meanwhile earlier in the week the IT offered a column from from Dr Martin Feeley in the IT who the paper notes “stepped down from his post as clinical director of Dublin Midlands Hospital Group on September 15th” and who also offers some eye-watering opinions on the virus.

Dr. Feeley takes a panglossian view of events, arguing that deaths from Covid-19 are ‘slightly above flu deaths’ in Europe three years ago – implicitly arguing that the virus is no worse than the flu which is flat out wrong, bigging up co-morbidity for those who have died, arguing there have been ‘few’ deaths for those under 65 and so on. He’s also fixated on obesity as a indicator of severe illness and mortality, though given how that cuts across generations and how difficult and how long a time it takes to change that state it is not clear what is meant to be done with those in that situation (he himself notes a good 25% or so of the population are categorised as obese by some standards). Should that 23% or so of the population shelter too?

It seems he does, arguing that the ‘at-risk and vulnerable’ have to be protected while letting the young ‘live their lives’. How does this functions in a reality of multi-generation households? Feeley doesn’t begin to address that question. Mark Paul doesn’t appear to be believe it is a question Nor does he seem to question whether long term immunity exists – and he places his trust in ‘herd immunity’.

Given that without the former the latter is an impossibility all this comes across as aspirational. Sure, I wish that Covid-19 was as minor as he seems to think, I wish we could neatly demarcate society so that some normality could continue. But it’s not that easy.

As to his final thought:

Regardless, we need to stop scaring the nation; be honest with the nation and consider how to better facilitate personal choice.

“Scaring the nation” is bad but advocating the spread of the virus among large cohorts a large number of who can and will be impacted negatively is good? No mention of the tail of people suffering grievous after-effects (there’s also a fairly stunning misreading of stats in one of the figures he quotes, noted by a comment BTL, which is near inexplicable).

But what about the vulnerability of younger people to the virus? Returning to the Atlantic one will read:

COVID-19 presents an array of health challenges that are serious, if not imminently fatal. The disease occasionally sends people’s immune system into a frenzy, wreaking havoc on their internal organs. Several studies of asymptomatic patients revealed that more than half of them had lung abnormalities. A March study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that 7 to 20 percent of sick patients showed heart damage associated with COVID-19.

And for younger cohorts:

For men in their 30s, like me, about 1.2 percent of COVID-19 infections result in hospitalization, according to a July study published in Science. Once the disease has progressed to this point, the risk of chronic illness soars. Research from Italy found that roughly nine in 10 hospitalized patients said they still had symptoms after two months. A British study reported a similar risk of long-term illness.

And consider this:

You might be used to thinking of 30-somethings as safe and seniors as at risk in this pandemic. But if a man in his 30s and a man in his 60s both contract COVID-19, it is more likely that the 30-something will develop a months-long illness than that the 60-something will die, according to this research. (The calculation above doesn’t even include the countless long-haulers who never went to the hospital.)

And the author neatly demolishes herd immunity in this context since not merely do we not know how long if at all immunity may last, but also must buy into the idea that the disease doesn’t impact on those who don’t die from it and finally that one can work out who is high or low risk. But as the author notes, the US (and Ireland etc) is not ‘segregated by age’.

So no complacency there.

So why is it that others given a public platform simply wish all this stuff away, and why is it that the media itself seems all too willing to allow tropes to take hold? The IT would no doubt be horrified to see itself as a conveyer of the same sort of narratives as those put out by the Trump White House – even inadvertently on the part of those conveying them. It is unlikely they would do similar in respect of – say – incorrect or misleading tropes around climate change.

So what’s so different about an actual global pandemic?

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