Armchair epidemiology

This is one of those times when a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous and frustrating thing. I’ve had some formal training in epidemiology, virology and public health policy and worked as an intern in a high profile medical research lab but never pursued this as a career. My most recent formal education comes through the amazing world of online courses (I use for most college and graduate level courses) where the world’s best medical school professors and course lectures from around the world are available for anyone to monitor in any language. Also, anyone who has attained food safety certifications though federal HACCP training or the ServSafe managerial programs (as I’ve done recently) also has a little bit of knowledge in virology control as a public health measure. Now, I find myself unwisely engaging with people and their newly earned Facebook medical degrees. Much of the current public and media discussion is based on fundamentally flawed logic. It is also clear that most people have no grasp of how brutally governments have historically enforced public health policy. As a result, many of the people who we unflatteringly refer to as “low information” are shocked that public health policy enforcement tramples their civil rights.

Another point of personal frustration is the use of antibody test for public reopening decisions. At this point in time, the presence of antibodies as the result of a coronavirus test should presumed to mean nothing. No assumption about immunity can be made for this novel virus. We know that it’s not valid logic to presume that resistance patterns for one known germ in the past will work the same as another novel virus now. That uncertainty is heightened when a virus mutates as often as this coronavirus strain. The current discussion of using test results to decide when to open facilities is purely political fodder, data used in the absence of logic, by politicians who must make difficult decisions.

Additionally, the history of epidemic outbreaks tells us that it is almost a certain that the combined impact of future outbreaks will be more deadly that the recent past, even if not as acute. It’s really not in question. So while some politicians may fire their medical and disaster preparation staff members, that doesn’t make the risk go away. Nor does it make the next pandemic that “came out of nowhere” statement any more credible.

Most importantly, what I’ve learned is how little I know. I know that I would never presume to place the value of my own personal opinion over the advice of scientists and medical experts. Our society as a whole has lost respect for experts. Anyone (or any bot) with a Facebook account gets as much press as the world’s experts. This is a case such ignorance and lack of respect for the value of expert advice will be deadly for some.


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