Fear of Removing COVID-19 Distancing Policy

Dear Editor,

COVID-19 is extremely contagious. Controlling highly contagious diseases with mitigation policies is difficult. High contagiousness combined with naive populations make virus characteristics more important at shaping the curve. Removing the policies will result in a new peak, smaller than it would have been in their absence. Singapore’s strict policies successfully leveled the curve until relaxed policies resulted in a new peak.

Analogies make explaining easier. Plopping frosting on a surface creates a circular glob with most mass in the middle and less at the ends. The cross sectional shape of the frosting represents the curve. The frosting mass is the total population infected. Frosting width as it is spread is the epidemic period. Spreading the frosting from left to right leaves a frosting streak that reduces the glob as it migrates to the right over time. Eventually, you stop when there is no more glob to spread. If you stop spreading prior to this end state, a smaller, shorter than the original glob will remain. Social distancing spread the curve or glob over time. We don’t know how close we are to this desired end state and therefore how high the resulting peak will be if we stopped now. All we know is the peak has been reduced from where it could have been without the policies. Larger more densely populated areas have more mass/frosting that will take longer to distribute. We have a lot of unknowns.

The maximum peak is a tradeoff with length of the epidemic. This causes other tradeoffs. For example, restrictive state policies intended to conserve fixed medical assets such as ICU rooms also decimated the local supply chains, reducing resupply of other variable medical supplies.

Voters in a democracy with individual free speech rights and rights to petition the government should have input into these tradeoffs. We have a right to petition the government, protest and to communicate our preference with these tradeoffs. We are being encouraged to stop physical protesting to stop the spread. At the same time Facebook is silencing online discussion supporting reopening. Both of these together prevent voters from controlling our government and our destiny. We deserve input into these tradeoffs.

Those who advocate continuing restrictions will view small peaks as evidence that we should have kept them. In the end, this decision involves trade offs involving many unknowns with huge implications for everybody.

Alan Burke