Aimee Stephenson: Why we should liberate Vermont now with a full turn of the spigot

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Aimee Stephenson, of Burlington. She has a doctorate in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics from the University of Vermont.

The justification for the economic shutdown and stay-at-home order was to “flatten the curve” in the name of ensuring our hospitals were not overrun by a predicted tidal wave of COVID-19 patients. The purpose of social distancing is to spread out cases, preventing hospitals from being overwhelmed, and in turn, avoiding deaths from COVID due to lack of available medical care.

As the reason for the shutdown was to avoid a particular cause of death — lack of hospital capacity — it would follow that the most relevant metric for deciding whether to reopen the economy is hospital capacity. The key question our leaders should be asking is whether we currently have an issue with hospital capacity? The answer to this question is a resounding “no.”

Beginning in early April, the state’s modeling predicted on April 26 Vermont would need, in the worst-case scenario, 2,405 beds for COVID patients. Three weeks later on April 24, the state downgraded this prediction to a worst-case scenario of 200 beds needed. Why? The answer lies in the actual data; the massive surge they were expecting, both in COVID cases and COVID hospitalizations, never occurred. In this same three-week period, the Vermont Department of Health reported patients hospitalized due to COVID fell from 29 to 12 patients.

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In a discussion earlier this month about reopening the economy once the spread of coronavirus has slowed, Gov. Phil Scott said, “If we can continue to see and have confidence that it’s leveled out, plateaued, and then starts declining, that’s when we start opening the spigot, as I said, a quarter turn at a time.”

This scenario demonstrates why it is so dangerous to base sweeping policy decisions on modeling rather than real data. As a scientist, I am pro data-based planning and decision making, but only if true, verifiable data exists. In Vermont and nationally, our leaders have not been making decisions based on data, but rather on models driven by fear and panic. In doing so, they have inflicted huge costs on society, the economy and millions of people’s lives.

I believe our leaders have lost sight of the original intent of the lockdown, which was to flatten the curve and preserve hospital capacity. Instead, a new, misguided reason for keeping the lockdowns in place has emerged — preventing the spread of an airborne pathogen. No matter how long, how stringent, or how austere the lockdown measures are, it is completely irrational and unreasonable to believe we can actually prevent the spread of COVID-19.

What Vermonters and the nation need to come to grips with is the fact we coexist every day with viruses, both known and unknown, and have done so since the beginning of human life on earth. We are no more likely to be able to prevent the spread of an airborne illness such as COVID-19 than we are able to prevent the rising and setting of the sun. Yes, social distancing and lockdowns can slow the spread, but eventually a large proportion of Vermont and the world population will come in contact with COVID-19.

Keeping the lockdowns in place until we have a vaccine is a similarly misguided notion. This approach is unsustainable from an economic and societal perspective. Additionally, lifting the lockdown, as soon as possible, is an important strategic next step in reducing harm from COVID-19 and protecting our most vulnerable.

What is known from real data — not models — is the novel coronavirus does not pose a huge problem for the vast majority of Vermonters. They will either experience no symptoms because their immune system effectively fights the virus off, or they will experience mild symptoms.

Another fact we are learning from real data is only a portion of the population is likely to be severely, adversely impacted by COVID-19. As of April 10, 78% of COVID-related deaths in the United States were in people 65 and older, and nearly all were comorbidities where the presence of another chronic disease contributes to death. This is the population we need to protect and focus our efforts on. The current lockdown is not the best way to protect vulnerable Vermonters.

Long before a vaccine is ever developed, herd immunity will protect us from COVID-19. Herd immunity is the phenomenon whereby the novel coronavirus is no longer able to readily spread once a certain percentage of the population has been exposed. Keeping the lockdowns in place, and in particular school closures, prevents the natural progression of the novel coronavirus through the population and delays the development of herd immunity. Many are terrified of lifting the restrictions, but it appears the virus has already spread more than we previously thought. We are learning from recent antibody studies done in Santa Clara, Los Angeles, and New York City that a much larger portion of the total population has already been exposed to the novel coronavirus.

While there is understandably trepidation around lifting restrictions, Vermont should be focusing its public information campaigns, testing capacity and health care resources on those most vulnerable. Doctors and other health care professionals who test positive for antibodies, indicating they have developed immunity to the virus, are the ones best suited to care for these populations.

Lifting restrictions now is the most responsible action Vermont can take to develop herd immunity as soon as possible. This may also prevent the very real possibility of a second wave of the pandemic. If we delay the development of herd immunity much longer, the virus may go dormant over the warm summer months only to rear up again in the fall. Do our leaders not see that merely delaying the inevitable is to our extreme detriment?

Federal and state governments are obsessed with tracking the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths. While it is important to monitor the spread of the novel coronavirus, these numbers are not relevant to the decision to open the economy. The only relevant metric is hospital capacity. Recent hospital furloughs at Southwestern Vermont Health and Rutland Regional Medical Center suggest an overabundance of healthcare capacity.

Yet Vermonters suffering from life-threatening conditions, such as cancer, are being denied so-called “elective surgeries.” Why are the lives of these patients less important than those who get COVID-19? Why does the state selectively ignore important and real data concerning the staggering unemployment numbers (over 70,000 claims) and lost revenue to Vermont (estimated at over $170 million)? These numbers aren’t based on “models,” but reflect real consequences for every Vermonter, not just a portion of the state’s residents.

It is time, now, to abandon misleading and detrimental models and act on what we know with certainty. We need to immediately open Vermont’s economy with a full and generous turn of the spigot. With the spigot open, Vermonters are not likely to suddenly abandon common sense in using hygienic practices such as social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands and staying home when sick. Many Vermonters have suffered such panic and anxiety they are not likely to gratuitously come out of hiding any time soon.

But for the vast majority of Vermonters who have suffered greatly under the lockdown, there is no other conscionable decision but to immediately reopen the economy and liberate Vermont from restrictions that are also counterproductive to protecting our most vulnerable from COVID-19. We desperately need our politicians and leaders to make rational decisions based on real data to lead Vermont out of this crisis.

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20 thoughts on “Aimee Stephenson: Why we should liberate Vermont now with a full turn of the spigot

  1. Interesting perspective. Wonder how Aimee’s logic would fly in say Florid or Texas and perhaps Arizona. They tried her “open the tap” suggestion and look where they are today. While these folks have faced viruses everyday, can’t help but wonder how frequently Covid-19 has visited the US over the years. Aimee, respectfully suggest you go back to school for an update on Covid-19.

  2. “In Vermont and nationally, our leaders have not been making decisions based on data, but rather on models driven by fear and panic. In doing so, they have inflicted huge costs on society, the economy and millions of people’s lives.”

    Great summary; excellent essay, glad to see it here again. Would that our leaders had such common sense.

  3. Outstanding article! We must share this everywhere possible to hopefully combat the existing fear out there, and stop the destruction of what remains of Vermont’s economy.

  4. Thank you so much for this article!

    I’d like to suggest giving some attention to Dr. Rashid Buttar and PhD Judy MIKOVITZ. Both of them are brilliant scientists who explain virology in detail and why we do NOT need a vaccination for this at all!

    Vermont has always been a free-thinking and independent-minded kind of state and if we look beyond the mainstream media stories we can find our own Practical Methods to keep our families safe and our economies thriving.

    Sara

  5. Viruses are and will always be a part of life on planet Earth! We can NOT allow Governors to respond to every new virus that breaks out by declaring an emergency that they can then USE as a justification to arbitrarily order shut downs of privately owned businesses and order de facto quarantine of all citizens, most of whom showed no signs of sickness! The response has literally done more damage to more people than the virus!

    Their response has also shifted the responsibility for ourselves into placing the responsibility onto private businesses! Since when has this country ever made private businesses responsible for whether people contract a virus? This virus might be new right now, but in the end, it’s just another virus among MANY, that have always been and always will be part of life on planet Earth! SCIENTISTS taught us a long, long time ago, about the “natural order” of existence! You might call it “survival of the fittest!”

    Of course we are much better able to “save” the lives of those who would not survive under the laws of “natural order,” and we SHOULD do what we can for them medically! But helping a tiny fraction of the population to survive a virus should NEVER come at the expense of destroying private businesses, our economy and destroying our freedoms, liberties and our way of life!

  6. Never forget, unlike you probably ever heard. As a fact the first playing of this in America was at Ft Meade in SD (with a historical sign) near Sturgis (the motorcycle rendezvous). Great VA hospital there and been there.

    Star Spangled Banner As You’ve Never Heard It
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YaxGNQE5ZLA (11:38)

    We need our independence back and not hover in our houses.

  7. Aimee,
    You’ve written an excellent article. I agree with your thoughts and I’ve passed this article on and on and on. I think there is a fear to step out of “the comfort zone” for many of the decision makers and the many who follow their leadership. The one-size-fits-all approach is not the answer. We have 5 months of real world data, what are we waiting for?

  8. Aimee, just pray you don’t get drenched if the spigot is turned on too early. While you make a compelling case, I’m in the “better to be safe than sorry” camp and I’m not a belt and suspender guy.

    • Mike,
      All of us do not live in Chittenden County, so we all should not be treated as such. I have been in the medical field for 30 years and educational for 20 years and it is time to open up. The counties on the outskirts like Caledonia, Orleans, Essex, Orange, Grand Isle have been below the curve for weeks and have been distancing well beyond the 14 days!

    • Grow a pair, Mike. Get out there and make your own contribution to building the herd immunity.

      At my advanced years, I’m convinced that’s the way to go.

    • Dear Mike, in opposition to your “stay at home” position, America is waking up and as the saying goes “I’m Mad as Hell and Ain’t Going to Take it Anymore”. Freedom and non-control of freedom loving Americans will persevere. Go to a past TNR article and see the video link I posted about this title. TNR won’t allow two links (for me especially).

      There’s a Facebook site called “Free America Now” and May 1st is Law Day. A posting on the page:
      “Join the movement to Free America Now! We created this page to rally citizens and serve as a hub of information for the HUNDREDS of grassroots efforts across the country to FREE AMERICA NOW. Please do Two thingsl LIKE THIS PAGE. Then, SHARE this page with your friends and help FREE AMERICA NOW!”

      You have the right to stay cooped up in your house, get cabin fever and sing or listen to the song:
      Jim Reeves Four Walls Country PKP
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3R_EyN6Yxow

      The Old Farmers Almanac says Summer is 50 days away, enjoy.

    • I have also been in healthcare for 20 years and have studied economics, but regardless of that the basis for my wanting to open the entire economy is that my 11 year old son told me the other day that he doesn’t want to live in this world anymore because he is so lonely and misses everybody; 3 of his classmates said similar things a d a friend told me a 10 year old girl committed suicide in her town the other fir the same reasons. This is what we have done to our children and their lives are the most important since they are our future. Teaching kids, and people in general, to let fear keep them from living their lives is dangerous and as a person who is very high risk of dying if I catch it, my life is no more important than anyone else’s and t isn’t every body else’s job to protect me, it is my job to protect me and my job alone. I would rather die happy tomorrow than live forever being miserable and afraid.

  9. Excellent article. Always good to read the writings of professionals committed to fact, real science and truth.

    • A huge thank you to an expert. In fact our hospitals are dying financially due to zero surgery procedures, while, as written, thousands are NOT getting Health Care they truly need.

      May the Governor;s spigot be opened soon, very soon

  10. An excellent and reasonable commentary. However, I fear that the spigot has been opened already, but not the one we wanted: it is one of unbounded fear of a virus that’s comparable to a bad flu, and nothing more.

    We’re being primed to wait for a vaccine; we hear this over and over. It’s not safe to go out and it never will be until a vaccine comes around (if it ever does: a big if.) We were told that we wouldn’t have enough hospital beds, and that a surge was coming: it never happened. Now another surge might come, a second wave. Then, if we let people out, more people will get infected and we’ll have to put the brakes back on: wait for a vaccine.

    This isn’t the Governor’s fault and it isn’t Vermont’s fault. The messages are coming from on high and echoed by those physicians and other professionals who buy into the models that have already been shown to be false, and to the fear-mongering. We point to NYC– well, who knows what’s going on there? It’s an outlier.

    I get more cynical by the hour since a lot of facts are in but facts don’t matter. What matters is pushing the fear button over and over. Dr. Fauci is our fear-monger-in-chief.

    Maybe the people who wanted to save the world from global warming are having their way, after all. The stupid peasants wouldn’t listen; they kept going to ski resorts, kept buying stuff, still had yellow vest protests. But now we have a good excuse to shut down the economy and keep people from contributing to emissions, and by God, it’s working!! The world will be saved after all! And to think we only had 13 years to get our act together (or was it 12?) Bill Gates must be very happy about the way things have turned out, and now all we have to do is wait for a vaccine. If we don’t get that vaccine we’re just going to have to keep things shut down, because here we have Covid-19, and what about Covid-20 and Covid-21?? Life will never be the same, folks, but it’s probably for the best if we get to save the earth from burning up.

    Remember: according to Modern Monetary Theory, any government with a fiat currency (like the US) can print all the money it wants to, and it’ll always be able to pay its bills. It doesn’t even need taxes. We could all be living on a universal income, not a problem. The deficit doesn’t matter at all, and lest anyone think it does, I refer readers to Bernie Sander’s economic adviser in the 2016 election who is coming out with a book called, “The Deficit Myth.”

    Ya can’t make this stuff up.

    • Vermont has it’s own Dr Fauci, running about maintaining terror with his voice,

      Keeping our Governor quaking in fear, unable to reach his spigot

  11. Excellent presentation. I hope that we all learn quickly and understand what is really happening based on facts instead of opinions and projections. Maybe this is possible, but more likely it’s “hopium.” Leaders need to understand before followers can believe. I recommend considering this old Persian proverb:

    He who knows not and knows he knows not is a child; teach him.
    He who knows not and knows not he knows not is a fool; shun him.
    He who knows and knows not he knows is asleep; wake him.
    He who knows and knows he knows is wise; follow him.

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