Epidemiologist Sunetra Gupta, who teaches at Oxford University in the U.K., is making a case for students returning to classes, without masks.
The Mask has become caught up in the culture war. Gupta is a scientist, and, while that doesn’t make her infallible (the nature of science is to change and evolve with new information), it should make what she has to say worth considering.
Gupta, 55, says that unless you are elderly or have underlying conditions, there is no need for a mask. She teaches without one.
Maverick thinker John Tierney of City Journal reports on Gupta’s case for maskless school reopening (“The Moral Case for Reopening Schools—without Masks”):
“It’s such a disservice to this generation of students,” she says. “Teachers and students who are vulnerable should have the option to go online, but for the rest of us this virus is no bigger than other risks we take in daily life. It’s not rational, and certainly not communitarian, to avoid being infected with a pathogen that carries such a low risk to you when there’s a high benefit to the community by helping to create herd immunity.”
Sweden is the country associated with developing herd immunity.
Gupta’s position is heresy:
Officials at the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health condemned the strategy of relying on herd immunity. Anthony Fauci, the White House advisor, said that it would lead to a “completely unacceptable” number of deaths—perhaps more than 10 million Americans, by one calculation published by scientists in the New York Times. A group of Swedish doctors and scientists denounced their country for keeping day-care centers, primary schools, bars, restaurants, and stores open, declaring in late July that the policy was leading to needless “death, grief and suffering” because Sweden was “nowhere near herd immunity.”
Sweden’s controversial policy, Gupta believes, has worked better than its critics claim:
In fact, though, this strategy now seems to have fostered herd immunity in Sweden and other places. The number of daily Covid deaths in Sweden, which peaked at 115 in April, has averaged just two since the beginning of August. Fewer than 6,000 Swedes have died, a far cry from the nearly 100,000 deaths projected by the Imperial model. Per capita, the United States and Britain have suffered more Covid deaths than Sweden, and the fatality rates in the states of New York and New Jersey are three times higher than Sweden’s.
It’s true, as lockdown proponents often point out, that the fatality rate is higher in Sweden than in neighboring Nordic countries. But most of that disparity, according to a recent analysis by George Mason University economist Daniel Klein and colleagues from Scandinavia, is due to factors unrelated to those neighbors’ lockdowns, which were actually quite light and short-lived compared with those in Britain and the northeastern United States. (In Norway and Finland, for instance, schools reopened in May, and bars and restaurants reopened in early June.)
Even before any of the lockdowns, Sweden was harder hit than its neighbors, partly because it had relatively more immigrants and international travelers, but mainly because of its larger proportion of highly vulnerable old people, particularly in nursing homes.
Perhaps the best policy is to learn to live with the virus:
Herd immunity cannot eliminate deaths; like ordinary flu viruses, Covid-19 will remain endemic even if a vaccine arrives. But herd immunity ends the epidemic by greatly slowing the spread. The elderly and other high-risk people still need to be careful—and Gupta favors continuing policies to shield them from the virus—but the best long-term strategy for protecting them is letting low-risk people build up herd immunity right now.
We’re always having “not scientific” thrown in our faces, but the scientific approach would be to calmly evaluate the pros and cons of particular policies. What really seems to work? What doesn’t?
Pandemics are traumatic for any society. The politicization of “our” plague makes it hard to weigh scientific evidence, likely cheating people out of the opportunity to move towards the resumption of normal lives to the extent the requirements of safety permit.
Tierney concludes by quoting Gupta:
“The Covid isolation strategies are accompanied by a lot of virtue-signaling and self-righteousness,” Gupta says, “but the costs are very high on the poor around the world as well as the young. I find it intolerable for teachers to ask youth to give up this important phase of their development—and to slow the development of herd immunity. If we really care about the common good and protecting the vulnerable, the rest of us should be willing to take a very small personal risk.”