Can we rope-a-dope the virus?

The “Rumble in the Jungle” was the 1974 boxing match in Zaire between two of the greats: An aging, slowing Muhammed Ali and the younger, stronger, harder-punching George Foreman.

Ali repeatedly let Foreman back him into the ropes. There, most of Foreman’s blows were deflected or absorbed by Ali’s arms which were bruised black and blue the next day. Ali allowed his body to recoil against the ropes like shock absorbers to absorb much of the rest.

That continued into the seventh round when Foreman landed a knockout punch to Ali. Except it failed knock him out. Ali leaned into Foreman and whispered, “That all you got, George?”

Foreman later said he thought to himself, “Yeah, that’s all I got.” He was exhausted.

Ali floored Foreman in the next round for an eight count. Foreman stumbled to his feet and referee ended the fight on a technical knockout.

Ali and Foreman later became close friends. A documentary film about their fight won an Oscar. Foreman helped a Parkinson’s Disease-stricken Ali up the steps of the stage to receive the award.

Foreman once said Ali was “the greatest man I’ve ever known. Not greatest boxer, that’s too small for him. He had a gift. He’s not pretty, he’s beautiful. Everything America should be, Muhammad Ali is.”

America today is assaulted by a young, strong, hard-punching assailant of a different type. It’s a virus. It has tanked the stock market, killed several hundred Americans and thousands worldwide, and induced panicky hoarding of things wholly irrelevant to the threat it poses, such as toilet paper.

Why toilet paper? This isn’t an intestinal ailment. Are Americans scared shitless? C’mon, we’re better and braver than that.

Our fathers and grandfathers went off to war while our mothers and grandmothers worked in airplane factories. We’re now asked only to stay home on the couch watching TV in a self-imposed quarantine. People seem unable to do that without the satisfaction of denying toilet paper to their fellow Americans.

The stupidity and selfishness of these hysterical toilet paper hoarders makes me sicker than Coronavirus ever will.

Coronavirus is highly unlikely get me at all. It is possible (even likely, is my hunch) that this virus will abate as social-distancing takes hold and warmer spring weather comes around. In addition, innovative biotech companies – a field where America leads the world, notwithstanding the demonization of such companies by some as “Big Pharma” – is working hard to develop treatments.

In the meantime, we need a strategy better than staying home on the couch surrounded by toilet paper. The Netherlands has adopted and Great Britain is considering a controversial different approach.

Bear in mind several facts. First, we won’t have a vaccine for at least half a year. Second, the virus seldom kills young or heathy people. The average victim in America is 77. It has killed only one American under 50, and he was in his 40’s with an underlying condition.

Third, people acquire immunity to this kind of virus by surviving exposure to it. (That’s essentially what a vaccine accomplishes, but with the use of a compromised virus.) Fourth, containment is futile. Some 86% of the people with the virus are walking around undetected and asymptomatic.

In view of all that, the approach being adopted by the Netherlands is to stop quarantining the people who contract the virus. Instead, let it spread – as it is anyway. Nearly everyone to whom it spreads will survive it, and most will do so with mild or nonexistent symptoms.  Quarantine will be reserved for the old and infirm, but not sick, whom it is capable of killing. They’re often effectively quarantined anyway in nursing homes. The approach is essentially an inverted quarantine.

By letting the healthy population contract the virus harmlessly, the population at large develops “herd immunity” to the virus.

Enough healthy people in the population with herd immunity, together with a quarantine of the unhealthy population, beats the virus altogether because it cannot find hosts, i.e. susceptible victims. Unlike bacteria which can survive and multiply in a variety of sustaining environments, viruses cannot stay viable for more than a few hours or at most a few days without a host.

I admit that I don’t know if this approach of the Netherlands is the right one or not. It depends on facts beyond my ken and currently unknowable to even experts, such as the exact lethality of the virus in various demographics and various circumstances and the degree to which contracting the virus confers immunity and the duration of that immunity.

But this is worth an active debate by scientists and epidemiologists. It’s possible – just possible – that this approach could work. Let the virus deliver its hardest punch to the healthy who can take it, so that we can build herd immunity for the overall population.

We might be able to rope-a-dope this thing – we might be able to exhaust it. We might be able to say to the virus, “That all you got?”

It would be gutsy and shrewd. It would risk some brave souls to protect the larger population and the most vulnerable. It would be everything America should be.

16 thoughts on “Can we rope-a-dope the virus?

  1. Interesting, would probably work, not going to happen in an election year, but Trump does have a “pair”, plus Obama basically did this for H1N1, didn’t he, and 12k died.

    • Spot on. If President Trump let 12K Americans die, the media and the deep-pocketed-resistance would condemn him for all eternity. The world’s travelers would see story after story on the nation’s airport TV sets about how ‘the mean orange man’ thought so little about grandma and grandpa that he condemned them to death (in an election year!).
      I am one that will never assume that adopting any European tactic will work to America’s benefit. Their demographics are different.
      If any tactic will likely work as planned, it is the one underway right now. We best not jump ship midstream.

  2. Excellent post!

    I just received an email from the Washington Post highlighting DANGER: “Six chilling estimates underscore danger of coronavirus to public health and the economy.” Let’s all panic!

    The cure is worse than the disease. Bankrupt the nation with trillion dollar grants. Better to provide funding for hospital care and a search for a cure.

  3. I’ve seen reports that Chinese and Australian researchers have determined that Chloroquine (a form of Quinine) seems to be efficacious against the virus. Knowing that alcohol is
    detrimental to most microbial life could it be that the cure for Coronavirus is Gin and Tonic?…

  4. Excellent comments and interesting article, we may all get this in the end and vast majority will take Theraflu, chicken soup and get over it but it is an election year. The Dems problem is their hysteria campaign has worked to well. It is now considered so bad i.e. WW ll all over again that Trump will not be blamed and then by election day the question will be ‘who is more capable of bringing the economy back, Tump or the ex VP who presided over the worst recovery from a recession in fifty years.’ They have made the crisis so existential that people will herd together and be fearful of change (Think FDR, after four years of depression unemployment rate was the same, then war ergo four terms). Add to that Biden is a moron who is losing his faculties meaning whoever is his VP candidate is actually running for President. I’m betting Trump.

  5. This makes all the sense in the world. Shutting down our entire way of life — and trying to finance this — seems like a pound of prevention for an ounce of disease. It’s madness. Whom the gods destroy, they first make mad, wrote Euripides. Apparently people hoarded toilet paper in Ancient Greece as well, although I don’t think such a product existed.

  6. I’m not sure that this would be the correct approach. Remember that the elderly need care and if there caretakers are all infected, the disease will spread to them. The disease appears to spread from asymptomatic carriers and the tests are not 100% accurate.

  7. I am a theologian, not an epidemiologist. I, too, upon first reading of this approach, considered it likely the part of wisdom. Then I read (searching for, not finding, the link) that the traditional and likely best way to create an immune base is through vaccination. A day or two later the Brits themselves appear to be reversing course and instituting quarantines.

    I suspect the best course, overall, for the range of purposes that would benefit all and sundry, is — sans panic — quarantine and vaccination, and hygiene and prayer.

    Old Hindu story: A Saint walking towards a village encounters the Cholera Anger leaving the same village. The Saint asks the Cholers Angel how many people have died at the village ahead. “One hundred,” replied the Angel, “but I took only five. The rest died of fear.”

  8. The purpose of the quarantines are to slow the rate of spreading COVID-19 to keep the spike of critical cases within the capacity of the health care system. If the capacity of the health care system is exceeded to the point where it breaks down that is when people will die needlessly.

  9. Has a precedent been set? Is this how we react to a new virus every time? Well then, there’s your new and improved way to wage war. If you want to bring a country, or the world, to its knees, make it sick. How about this? You create the disease, AND the cure, and then you sell the cure, or you blackmail or otherwise threaten over access to the cure. Think the mad mullahs haven’t pondered this? I used to worry about an attack on our grid to shut us down electronically, and I still do, but this is actually happening now. It feels like we are circling the drain faster and faster…

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