Acceptable losses | The week

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How many deaths is freedom worth? It’s a calculation that is rarely discussed but must be made – consciously, out of policy, or tacitly, out of indifference. As the country settles into an uneasy coexistence with the coronavirus, will vaccination be required by employers and schools, or left to individual choice? Are mask mandates in public spaces gone forever, or will they return if there’s a big spike in fall and winter, or if new dangerous variants emerge? Should we stop fighting this persistent pathogen and let it rip itself apart? Cost-benefit analyzes are tricky, but our choices can be clarified by comparison: If the flu typically kills 12,000 to 52,000 Americans a year, would 100,000 annual COVID deaths be an acceptable price for the lack of mask or vaccine mandate? Is 200,000? Since the beginning of February, we have had 90,000 deaths, a rate of around 360,000 per year. Too much or just enough?

Omicron’s BA.2 sub-variant now spreads freely, as masks come off and semi-normality returns. Thanks to vaccination and previous infections, COVID-related deaths and hospitalizations remain relatively low. But only 45% of those vaccinated have been vaccinated, and death isn’t the only bad outcome of infection: More than 20 million Americans already have long COVID, and even mild infections have been shown to leave sometimes persistent organic damage and trigger chronic fatigue. , inflammation and autoimmune syndromes. Virologists and epidemiologists warn that we are likely in another lull in the pandemic, not at the end. Studies clearly show that immunity to vaccines and previous infections wanes over time, so the shape-shifting virus can come back to infect people again and again unless we continue to stimulate. We have the weapons to control this virus, but we lack the social cohesion to follow a coherent national strategy. Freedom is just another word for “you are alone”.

This is the letter from the editor in the current problem of The week magazine.

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