I am a concerned physician about the misinformation resulting from guest opinions in the Deseret News. A recent article titled “We are seeing spikes in COVID-19 cases. That might not be a bad thing” (July 8) can do terrible harm to our pandemic response. Social media now has several people in our communities justifying careless behavior based on this article.

One can cite any fatality rate they wish, but the statistics that matter are that every place with large spikes in cases quickly sees their hospital systems become overwhelmed with the sick and dying. Articles like this are a huge slap in the face to health care workers, families personally affected by this virus or other patients needing hospital care. Our collective safety is put in danger by the aftermath of these spikes. We already have 130,000 dead and millions of hospitalizations in this country from this virus, and a respected newspaper is printing opinion articles that suggest new infections are a good thing.

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There is no developed country in the world allowing natural herd immunity to this virus. The cost of human lives is unacceptable and herd immunity without a vaccine may not even be achievable. Polio, smallpox, measles and other viruses never truly seemed to reach herd immunity status before vaccines. Transmission would sometimes wane and then come roaring back. Without vaccines, obtaining lasting herd immunity to virulent viruses does not come easy.

Natural herd immunity appears even more implausible when we consider that even the most affected countries from COVID-19 are still nowhere near herd immunity. For instance, Spain was especially affected by the early pandemic. They had close to 30,000 deaths in a short period of time and had several of their hospitals completely overwhelmed. Recent antibody testing has shown their country still only has 5% immunity. Even Stockholm, Sweden, which initially had a more relaxed approach, only has 7% immunity.

At this pace, it will take several years, if not a decade, to reach herd immunity without a vaccine — and immunity may not last that long without a vaccine booster. However, the mere suggestion that we attempt natural herd immunity is highly unethical since we have learned that the spread of the virus can be limited.

Japan had 197 new cases on July 9 in its entire country. It has a population of 126.5 million. Utah had around 850 new cases on that same day in spite of having a population of only 3.2 million. In fact, there is no developed country in the world that comes close to what is happening here right now in terms of cases per capita. Places like Japan are proving that deaths and hospitalizations from this virus can become avoidable if we simply start to wear masks inside public areas, avoid gatherings where people aren’t wearing masks, continue to practice hand hygiene, limit the size of our social bubble and continue our contact tracing efforts. 

Those celebrating new infections as bringing us closer to herd immunity are celebrating a possibility that doesn’t likely exist without a vaccine.

Those celebrating new infections as bringing us closer to herd immunity are celebrating a possibility that doesn’t likely exist without a vaccine. Since big bumps in new infections also tend to bring new deaths, new hospitalizations, missed time from work and business closures — in a sense — they are only celebrating tragedy in our communities.

There are currently several vaccines in the final phases of trials for this virus. The odds are becoming very realistic that we will have a safe and effective vaccine within nine months. Surely, we can make some small sacrifices for a little longer and see if science provides a solution like they have with countless other infectious diseases.

I can’t tell you how difficult it is to tell someone’s family that their loved one has died. We are losing beloved parents, grandparents, siblings and friends, but it doesn’t have to be this way. We need to have a paradigm shift and start recognizing that contracting the virus could become mostly avoidable if we come together and start taking precautions. Again, these spikes in new cases can be avoided. Each life is precious to someone, and pushing for herd immunity via new infections seems either naively misinformed or grossly misanthropic.

Jordan Singleton, M.D., is an emergency physician and EMS liaison working at hospitals in Salt Lake and Utah counties.