- In order to stem further economic breakdown, the US should gradually lift its lockdowns.
- COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is deadliest for people over 60.
- The US should first lift lockdown for people age 45 or under, and then slowly lift it for people up to age 65.
- Martin Varasky is an entrepreneur who is the Chairman of Prelude Fertility and CEO of Overture Life, Goggo Network, Vas Ventures and the MVB Fund.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Based on the experience we here in Europe have seen with the novel coronavirus, I have some suggestions for Americans on how to reopen the US economy.
First, continue the lockdowns only for those over age 45. Then slowly lift the lockdown for those aged 45 to 65. Keep those over 65 in lockdown until treatment or vaccine is developed.
The reasons for this are based on the data. COVID-19 is the deadly for those over the age of 60. In Spain, 95% of people who die from COVID-19 were over the age of 60 and 87% were over 70.
Secondly, COVID-19 is extremely contagious. Due to limited testing and the prevalence of asymptomatic people, the official European data on how many people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 is likely a significant undercount. Imperial College estimates that in Spain, a country with as many people as California, 7 million people are infected.
Thirdly, given the high likelihood that cases are being undercounted, the current death rates are likely skewed and appear higher.
So the gradual lifting of the lockdowns should follow this data.
First, lift the lockdown for those under 45 years of age (without any pre-existing medical conditions) and continue the lockdown — with food and medical deliveries — to those who are above that limit. Younger people who live with people over 45 will have to be homeschooled for another month until the lockdown for those aged 45 to 65 is lifted.
Next, the question would be, what to do with those aged 45 to 65? These individuals are a key engine to the economy and an age group that does die more frequently from COVID-19.
In my view, they would have to wait for those younger than them to obtain herd immunity. This 45 to 65 age group would continue lockdown for another month. Once this group’s lockdown is lifted, this 45 to 65 age group will also find a less burdened healthcare system as those over 65 are still on lockdown and those under 45 have already been through the worst.
And what should be done with people over 65?
This is an unresolved issue. In Spain, the average age of novel coronavirus victims is 80. So I don’t see a way for those over 65 to safely leave lockdown until we have a vaccine or effective treatment.
Given the lethality of COVID-19 for older people, there is no safe way to recommend that a 75 year old come into contact with the rest of society openly. Though if we make advances in testing immunity, this same 75 year old could lead a life where an app-based system puts her in contact only with those who are already immunized. And if these recommendations are followed, there will be plenty of immunized people by the time 75 year olds leave lockdown.
If our objective is to save the most lives, why not just keep everyone on lockdown indefinitely? Because the devastation of staying on lockdown will only increase as time goes on. Health does not only mean not getting COVID-19, it also means not dying from everything else that could occur during lockdown: cancer, heart disease, suicides, murders. The only reason to keep everyone in lockdown would be if we believe that a vaccine is around the corner. But that is not the case. We don’t have a vaccine nor do we have an effective treatment for COVID-19.
I would like to end with some data on the COVID-19 mortality rate, mixing Imperial College estimates of those infected of COVID-19 with data obtained from the Spanish national health system, Sanidad, regarding COVID-19 deaths by age group.
Imperial College estimates that in a country like Spain for every diagnosed case, there are 50 undiagnosed cases of people who are asymptomatic or whose symptoms were not severe enough to get tested. This is reasonable because in Spain or Italy your symptoms have to be very severe to be tested.
We can therefore estimate that the mortality of COVID-19 in Spain is much lower than headline statistics suggest for people under 45. It is also very low for those under 65 (a total of 800 deaths for 7 million infected). And it is quite lethal for those 65 or over (a total of 11,200 deaths out of 7 million).
I imagine that when you read that the US should now consider a lockdown only of those over 45 and the rest should lead mostly normal lives while treating COVID-19 if sick (staying home if they are sick, going to the hospital if needed but otherwise taking their children to schools and going to work) you will think that I am exposing that younger population subgroup to tremendous danger. But given the data and the likelihood of undercounting cases I do hope you will agree with me.