Physician defends Great Barrington Declaration, calls for return to normal life

A group of scientists caused a major stir this month when they released the Great Barrington Declaration, which called for the majority of people to return to normal life.

“Those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal,” the declaration says, calling for schools and universities to reopen in person, cultural activities to resume and all young people to return to work normally.

The declaration argues that as more young people get sick with COVID-19 and recover, the population will build up herd immunity.

The declaration has been widely condemned among public health experts, who say it would cause hundreds of thousands of people to die.

“Anybody who knows anything about epidemiology will tell you that is nonsense and very dangerous, because what will happen is that if you do that, by the time you get to herd immunity, you will have killed a lot of people that would have been avoidable,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci in a recent interview.

Dr. William Haseltine, a retired professor at the Harvard Medical School known for his work on HIV/AIDS and the human genome, told CNN that herd immunity is akin to mass murder.

Dr. Cody Meissner is a professor of pediatrics at Tufts Medical Center who signed the declaration and says that the lockdowns have been too extreme.

“We’re beginning to think more about the consequences of that fairly dramatic step,” he told KCBS Radio. “Science needs to have a dialogue, have a discussion about the pros and cons of opening our society. And the longer we delay that conversation, the more harm that we’re causing.”

Dr. Meissner argues that virtual learning is far inferior to in-person learning from both an educational and socialization standpoint and is having a severe impact on children, who are at low risk of falling ill with COVID-19.

While public health and educational experts across the board largely agree that distance learning is not a proper substitute for in-person education, most experts say that it is temporary step necessary to better study the virus and come up with thorough safety measures before schools can open in person. School outbreaks would not only impact students, but also their families, as well as teachers and all school staff.

Dr. Meissner acknowledged that both lockdowns and reopening society carry significant risks, and says there needs to be more of a dialogue about whether or not the cost of continued lockdowns are worth it.

In California, many lockdown measures have been eased with restaurants, retailers, hair stylists, hotels, playgrounds, gyms and many other businesses reopened in some capacity, and even schools are beginning to reopen for in-person education. Other states have accelerated their reopening even further.

The declaration argues that people who are known to be high-risk should continue to isolate while the rest of society carries on as normal.

However, the majority of physicians and public health experts agree that there is still a lot that is unknown about the virus. While the majority of younger, healthy people who are infected survive the virus, doctors report that some of these patients fall seriously ill and even die, seemingly at random.

The long-term health impacts of COVID-19 are also not clear, with many patients reporting lingering cognitive, cardiac and respiratory symptoms months after the virus has left their system.

And most significantly, in order for herd immunity to be reached, the majority of the population will need to be infected with the virus. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington estimates that if 40 percent of Americans were to get infected, about 800,000 people would die.