SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — As county leaders struggle to control the latest surge of COVID-19 in San Diego, there is an acknowledgment that there are no good options.
While many businesses are preparing to ignore public health orders to close or limit operations, public health experts warn the consequences of failure to limit the spread of the virus will be dire.
“The reality of it is indoor spaces with people talking without masks are not safe. I think that’s really important to getting this under control,” said Dr. Rebecca Fielding-Miller, an expert in infectious diseases at UC San Diego.
She says the county has tried to chart a middle course between allowing businesses to remain open while trying to rein in the virus.
“We have been, I’m really sorry to say, doing it in half measures since March," Fielding-Miller said.
But to be successful, such a policy requires a great commitment by the public to safety measures such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding gatherings. That commitment has proven vulnerable to the COVID fatigue felt by the public, as adherence to those measures tends to slide with time.
Fielding-Miller says some counties in the United States, along with some other countries, have had success with brief but strict lockdowns. However, there may not be public support for such actions here.
Others advocate a full reopening of the economy and letting the virus run its course. They argue that the economic, psychological, and educational harm from the public health restrictions are greater than the damage caused by the virus itself.
Proponents say the United States should try a “herd immunity” strategy, where attempts are made to protect vulnerable populations, but the virus is otherwise allowed to spread unchecked through the general population. The theory projects that once enough people are infected, the virus has nowhere left to spread and will die out on its own.
Most public health experts say that method could prove catastrophic. They point out that it’s not known how many people would have to be infected, but it would have to be a majority.
“If we went down this path where we attempt to infect 70% of the population, the very, very likely outcome is we would end up with something like one to two million Americans dying,” said Fielding-Miller.
Furthermore, it is also not known how long a person is immune after recovering from COVID-19. There have already been cases of people being infected for a second time.
“We would end up with extraordinarily high rates of disability and mortality for no gain at all, for people to just be able to get reinfected in six months. So I understand the attraction, but it's also not viable," Fielding-Miller said.
This week, San Diego moved into the purple tier, the most restrictive of California’s COVID-19 tiers.