How Should We Be Reacting to the Coronavirus Pandemic?

We are in this together

Dr. David L. Katz
Heated
Published in
5 min readMar 11, 2020

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A warning sign at the New Rochelle City Hall entrance in New York on March 10. Westchester County in New York will be placed under containment after officials determined Tuesday it is the site of a “cluster” of new coronavirus infections. Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

No one will know for sure the best responses to the COVID-19 pandemic until after it’s all over, and we look back and second guess ourselves. Hindsight will approximate 20/20; foresight almost never does.

But as someone who has the same skin in the game as everyone else — my own, those I love, plus advanced training in epidemiology and public health — my view is that we are under-testing, overreacting, and somewhat misdirecting our efforts.

We really can’t stop the general spread of this virus.

Airborne infections with a fairly high rate of infectivity — and COVID-19 qualifies — simply spread too readily to cut off transmission without fully autocratic lockdowns associated with martial law. It could theoretically be done, but many of the most vulnerable would be most adversely affected by the disruption in goods and services. We would essentially need to hit the pause button on living, all but entirely.

COVID-19 appears lethal almost exclusively to the elderly and chronically ill.

There are exceptions, but the disease does not appear to affect children very severely (unlike the flu, which routinely kills young children). Healthy adults seem to mostly have a relatively mild illness and recover. The deaths among the elderly and ill tell us which population we should focus on protecting. I think we should be very carefully shielding our nursing homes and long-term care facilities. And we should be setting up free-standing (and, ideally, mobile) testing facilities away from hospitals and clinics — where, of course, older and sicker people tend to congregate.

Importantly, the overall death rate is almost certainly much lower than the global figures suggest. Only in South Korea and on cruise ships has anything remotely like systematic testing taken place, and there, the mortality is slightly above…

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Dr. David L. Katz
Heated

President, True Health Initiative; CEO, Diet ID; Founder, Former Director, Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center. @DrDavidKatz