During an interview with Fox News host Jeanine Pirro on “Justice with Judge Jeanine,” Eric Trump, the son of President Donald Trump said, “And guess what, after November 3 coronavirus will magically all of a sudden go away and disappear and everybody will be able to reopen.” The following tweet includes a video of this segment:
Umm, “magically all of a sudden go away and disappear?” Guess what, that’s probably not going to happen.
November 3 is National Sandwich Day. But that’s likely not why Trump, the Eric, was referring to that date. It is also the scheduled Presidential Election Day. Is he suggesting that the pandemic is somehow tied to the Election? If so, those who know the over 89,000 people in the U.S. who have already died and the many more who have gotten sick from the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) may beg to differ. Plus, there are the many more people around the world who have been affected by this virus and don’t even know that November 3 is the U.S. Election Day.
Viruses, especially ones that have spread so far and widely as the Covid-19 coronavirus, don’t just magically disappear. They aren’t props in a Penn and Teller show. Using the word “magic” and this pandemic together is a bit like using the word “marshmallows” when you are trying to escape a burning building. The risk is trivializing and politicizing what is actually a serious public health emergency that won’t just go away like contestants on The Apprentice.
In fact, just this past Wednesday, Mike Ryan, MB, MPH. Executive Director of the World Health Organizations (WHO’s) Health Emergencies Program, warned that “This virus just may become another endemic virus in our communities and this virus may never go away. HIV hasn’t gone away.” He added , “I’m not comparing the two diseases but I think it is important that we’re realistic. I don’t think anyone can predict when or if this disease will disappear.”
An infection becomes endemic when it remains at a relatively constant level in a geographic area without the need for more cases to be imported into the area. This occurs when the reproductive rate (R0) of the pathogen, in this case a virus, is around one. The R0 is the number of new cases generated by a person who is infected by the virus and can transmit the virus to others (assuming that others are susceptible to the virus). If the R0 equals one then every currently contagious person will transmit the virus to one other person on average. An infectious disease only stops spreading in an area when the R0 stays below one. That’s assuming that new cases don’t come in from elsewhere.
The only likely way to make the R0 stay below one is to find something that can prevent a contagious people from infecting on average one other person. This may occur if the vast majority of the people become immune and stay immune to the virus or if people continue to social distance for a really long time. Even if either were to occur, the virus would not simply suddenly go away. Nothing in an epidemic happens overnight, except for maybe the firing of people dealing with the epidemic. Instead, transmission would gradually decrease. This, of course, doesn’t consider highly unlikely scenarios, such as an alien spaceship arriving and bathing the Earth with some magical rays. In the meantime, they could fix the horribly broken health care system and find a better way to keep soap from getting mushy.
If the SARS-CoV2 were to become endemic, then like other respiratory viruses, this new virus would continue to be around indefinitely. That would be the opposite of “all of a sudden go away and disappear.” Endemicity is a distinct possibility because there isn’t any evidence that people become immune for life or at least for a very long time after recovering from a SARS-CoV2 infection. Plus any vaccine that emerges probably won’t protect people forever, and the chances are essentially zero that everyone in the U.S. will get vaccinated and continue to get re-vaccinated over time to maintain protection. Continuing anti-vaccination campaigns will work to prevent that from happening.
If this virus becomes endemic, there will be two big sets of questions. One is what will the level of endemicity will result? In other words, how common will this infection be? What percentage of the population will get infected by the virus each year? Naturally, you want this percentage to be as low as possible.
The second set of questions is how bad will the infections be and what percentage of infected people will end up dying? Currently, your immune system may react unpredictably to the SARS-CoV2 because it’s essentially a virgin to this virus. Your immune system has never seen anything like this virus before so it behaves as many virgins may behave, trying all kinds of things that don’t really work and spending most of the first experience being very confused. In some cases, your immune system may go haywire, actually causing lots of damage. What then will happen when your immune system sees the virus for a second time, a third, or more? Will it then be able to better protect you? Will the resulting disease be less severe? As you know, practice doesn’t always make former virgins perfect. Someone or something with experience can still screw up, and not in a good way.
Then, there is the question of what could happen if the virus mutates and changes? Your immune system may or may not be able to properly recognize and respond to new versions of the virus. So many questions.
The one thing that’s clear is continuing to use words such as “magically”, “disappear”, and “go away” in various combinations when referring to the Covid-19 coronavirus is potentially very dangerous. It risks conveying the misleading image that this virus is not real or not a serious threat. As a result, people may not take measures such as social distancing, disinfection, and hand hygiene very seriously. They also may not be willing to get a vaccine should an effective and safe one emerge. Science is not about magic, and viruses don’t tend to just go away. That’s why real scientists don’t usually use words like “magically disappear” unless they are talking about funding for scientific research.