CHRIS POWELL: Fighting the virus epidemic is a judgment call every day

Published on Monday, 30 August 2021 20:52

As was demonstrated by the crude and disgraceful disruption of last week's back-to-school forum in Cheshire, many people in Connecticut are sick and tired of the virus epidemic and government's steps against it, however necessary they may have seemed.

Consumed by their hysteria, the dozen or so people at the forum who shouted down the speakers and cursed Governor Lamont seemed not to realize that the governor and other state and municipal officials are entitled to be more sick and tired of the epidemic than anyone else.

The governor may not have been right about everything since the epidemic began, but he could not be more right than he is about getting children back to school in person.

Since "remote learning" works only for the most motivated students with the most motivated parents, a year of education already has been lost for many children – children who were already the most disadvantaged.

The governor was abused in Cheshire last week because he has directed that students should wear masks in school at least until Sept. 30. Yes, children may find the masks annoying, and the medical necessity is questionable. But many parents are nervous about sending their children back to school under any circumstances, and the mask requirement may give them more confidence about it, even as wearing a mask is unlikely to cause substantial harm to anyone.

The school mask requirement may be a political compromise but nearly everyone should be able to live with it.

After all, no matter what the schools do about masks, there will be risk – the risk of contagion, the risk of losing more education, and the risk of getting hit by a car on the way to or from school. Indeed, from the beginning, dealing with the epidemic, for both government and individuals, has been entirely a matter of balancing risk, a daily judgment call. As government officials and individuals gain experience, those judgments evolve.

Anyone who wants perfect safety from the virus can try locking himself in his basement. But eventually he'll go crazy, and what then?

Next year there will be a state election. The governor, state legislators, and Connecticut's members of Congress may have a lot to answer for, but the people will be able to make them answer for it then.

Even as virus cases spike again in Connecticut, in part because of "breakthrough" infections – infections suffered by people already vaccinated against the virus – there is cause for optimism in the governor's daily epidemic reports.

While each day lately has brought hundreds more cases, hospitalizations and deaths have not risen correspondingly. On some days hospitalizations even decline as cases rise. This signifies that many cases are milder or asymptomatic and that doctors have found more effective ways of treating the virus than they had when the virus swept the world a year and a half ago and, upon diagnosis, people were sent home without any serious treatment only to come to the hospital critically ill when it was too late.

As the virus mutates into more evasive "variants" and the vaccines lose effectiveness and reveal more side-effects, government and medicine may realize that treatments rather than vaccines may be the best mechanisms for defeating the virus.

Though government in the United States has been distressingly slow to acknowledge some treatments, several treatments are already in use and showing success around the world and just need publicity.

Vaccines can be great and they have often saved humanity, but getting people vaccinated on a worldwide basis takes a long time. The polio vaccines have been around for 60 years and yet that disease is still not eradicated in the developing world. A vaccine's success in the developed world breeds complacency, the disease seems to vanish there, people lose fear of it and stop getting vaccinated, and then the disease returns, possibly because of contagion from the developing world.

Medicines are far more easily administered than vaccines. But as long as the government and the medical establishment are obsessed with vaccines, the country may miss a big opportunity and sink deeper into the political controversy about individual choice vs. government coercion.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

Posted in The Bristol Press, Column on Monday, 30 August 2021 20:52. Updated: Monday, 30 August 2021 20:55.