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Epidemiologist's Study: "Social Distancing" Does Not Stop Spread of COVID-19, Only Vulnerable Should Shelter

Updated on May 11, 2020

An epidemiologist and data scientist from Rockefeller University has directly challenged the assertion by Dr. Anthony Fauci and others on the president's Coronavirus Task Force, that blanket social distancing is the solution to slowing the spread of the virus. The scientist shows data from China that new cases had already peaked two weeks before the national shutdown in society was implemented, and were already well on the decline.

Dr. Knut Wittkowski, for twenty years a biostatistician at Rockefeller University, suggests that initial projections of the number of possible deaths were wildly inflated, and not based on "science."

On April 9th Fauci lowered the estimate of total deaths to come to 60,000, down vastly from 200,000 deaths even with "mitigation," i.e. social distancing, and possibly one million or even two million without.

Wittkowski asserts that, as with any "respiratory disease," the elderly and immune-compromised should be sheltered and isolated, and nursing homes closed off, since pneumonia for this population sector can be deadly.

However, Wittkowski says that children "do very well" with this class of viruses, and should not be taken out of school, as a first step in the process of building "herd immunity." Instead, elderly family members and those with compromised immune systems should be separated, as most peoples' natural immune system attacks the virus and builds antibodies, after which a person is no longer contagious.

The scientist said that the decision to close schools and colleges, after isolating vulnerable people, was harmful to the process of developing herd immunity, which is nature's powerful defense against viruses.

Wittkowski, who is author or co-author of hundreds of scientific papers, said that coronaviruses are nothing new and are fairly well understood. He said, that when properly calculated, the ultimate toll in deaths from COVID-19, in addition to deaths occurring from ordinary flu, will amount to a number comparable to a bad flu season.

In the 2019 - 2020 flu season, according to the CDC, up to 62,000 flu deaths have occurred. Total flu infections for that season are estimated at up to 56 million, with up to 740,000 hospitalizations.

In the 1968 "Hong Kong Flu" pandemic, about 100,000 Americans died, according to the CDC. In the 1957 "Asian Flu" pandemic, 116,000 Americans died, according to the CDC. In both pandemics deaths were concentrated among those over 65 and people with existing heart, lung, and other serious conditions. Worldwide, the World Health Organization reports that up to 650 000 people die of respiratory diseases linked to seasonal flu each year. Coronavirus deaths now are something over 200,000 worldwide, with controversy over how deaths are classified ongoing even within the medical community. It is not the virus which kills the patient, but complication stemming from pneumonia which can be linked to other co-morbid conditions.

Once the herd's immune systems have "exterminated the virus" through antibodies in the course of a typical epidemic, elderly will once again be able to meet with their children and grandchildren.

In his recent scientific article, "The first three months of the COVID-19 epidemic: Epidemiological evidence for two separate strains of SARS-CoV-2 viruses spreading and implications for prevention strategies," Wittkowski writes that broad social distancing might be useful for a short time within a narrow window before new cases have peaked, but otherwise says nothing is to be gained by extending such a policy.

Wittkowski said that, other than protective measures for vulnerable populations, the process of heard immunity should not be slowed by blanket social distancing for people of all ages and conditions, even the young and healthy.

Since a vaccine for COVID-19 is by wide agreement more than a year away, Dr. Wittkowski said: "As with all respiratory diseases, the only thing that stops the disease is herd immunity."

Edward Peter Stringham, Davis Professor of Economic Organizations and Innovation at Trinity College, gives Wittkowski's biography as follows:

"Dr. Wittkowski received his PhD in computer science from the University of Stuttgart and his ScD (Habilitation) in Medical Biometry from the Eberhard-Karls-University Tuüingen, both Germany. He worked for 15 years with Klaus Dietz, a leading epidemiologist who coined the term “reproduction number”, on the Epidemiology of HIV before heading for 20 years the Department of Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Research Design at The Rockefeller University, New York."

Wittkowski challenges the initial number of forecast deaths of 200,000 and upwards to possibly a million, even two million, as not based on science. Dr. Wittkowski then also points to readily available data which indicates that confirmed COVID-19 illnesses peaked weeks before blanket social distancing was ever implemented.

In the cases of both China and South Korea, Wittkowski notes that social distancing and societal shut-down were not implemented until after new case discovery had peaked, indicting that herd immunity was already well underway before social distancing.

Wittkowski's article is published at MedRxiv, a medical archive affiliated with Yale University, and also at the science depository ResearchGate.

Wittkowski says that the implementation of social distancing in South Korea prevented to population from reaching the final stages of herd immunity, and may be to blame for further outbreaks of the virus.

Source
Epidemic peak in China, February 1 - February 5.
Epidemic peak in China, February 1 - February 5.
China national shutdown, schools close, February 20.
China national shutdown, schools close, February 20.

Wittkowski said that blanket social distancing may flatten the curve leading to "herd immunity," but will prolong it and all but ensure further outbreaks later in the year.

Dr. Wittkowski's remarks, in a now viral video, were made to interviewers in a film posted by Journeyman Pictures, a well-known UK-based distributor of independent documentary films.

At one point, when asked by the interviewer if social distancing worked, the scientist deadpanned with dry professorial humor: "Social distancing is good, it prevented the sky from falling down." When asked if he was being ironic, the scientist said "of course."

When asked what he thought about earlier estimates that up to 2 million could die if social isolation were not put into place, Wittkowski scoffed: "I'm not paid by the government, so I'm entitled to actually do science."

Wittkowski argued that isolation and self quarantine for vulnerable populations was good policy, so that contact between this population and the general population was limited, but that like all respiratory system viruses, it was better to reach herd immunity sooner rather than later.

Wittkowski saw no reason for continued shut-down of the economy.

The epidemiologist said that it was becoming very clear that for every person who falls gravely ill, many more have already developed immunity and showed no symptoms or only mild symptoms, akin to a cold or normal flu.

Wittkowski said, as sunny summer weather approaches, that to be outdoors was a far safer environment, as the sun's ultraviolet spectrum decimates the virus, and it cannot survive bright sunlight. Wittkowski said that to be indoors was to share space where the virus could remain "healthy" and potent.

Wittkowski's Views Echoed by Yale's Dr. David L. Katz

Wittkowsi's views that the best course against the coronavirus is the rapid development of herd immunity, at the same time that vulnerable populations are shielded, are echoed by Dr. David L. Katz, founding director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center.

In a March New York Times article "Is Our Fight Against Coronavirus Worse Than the Disease?" - Dr. Katz writes:

"The data from South Korea, where tracking the coronavirus has been by far the best to date, indicate that as much as 99 percent of active cases in the general population are “mild” and do not require specific medical treatment."

As the bodies of children and the vast majority of adults encounter the coronavirus, the body's immune system attacks the virus and kills it, then develops antibodies against further infections of the virus. As with any such viral disease, that person is no longer contagious.

Dr. Katz, whose resume includes a BA degree from Dartmouth College, an MD from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and an MPH from the Yale University School of Public Health, explains:

"Importantly, that robust immune response also prevents transmission. If a germ can’t secure its hold on your body, your body no longer serves as a vector to send it forward to the next potential host. This is true even if that next person is not yet immune. When enough of us represent such “dead ends” for viral transmission, spread through the population is blunted, and eventually terminated. This is called herd immunity."


Dr. Katz Says Present, Broad Social Isolation Policy May be Making the Problem Worse, More "Surgical" Approach is Needed

Yale's Dr. Katz argues, as does Wittkowski, that present policy may be making a bad situation worse, as college students, rather than being left to mingle to allow their strong immune systems to exterminate the virus and develop antibodies, are being sent home, perhaps before immunity has been reached, to mingle with parents and grandparents, who may possibly be members of the vulnerable population with weaknesses, co-morbidities, and underlying health issues.

Katz favors a more precise "surgical" approach of focusing isolation and medical resources on the vulnerable.

Katz says:

"This focus on a much smaller portion of the population would allow most of society to return to life as usual and perhaps prevent vast segments of the economy from collapsing. Healthy children could return to school and healthy adults go back to their jobs. Theaters and restaurants could reopen, though we might be wise to avoid very large social gatherings like stadium sporting events and concerts."

Katz goes on:

"So long as we were protecting the truly vulnerable, a sense of calm could be restored to society. Just as important, society as a whole could develop natural herd immunity to the virus. The vast majority of people would develop mild coronavirus infections, while medical resources could focus on those who fell critically ill. Once the wider population had been exposed and, if infected, had recovered and gained natural immunity, the risk to the most vulnerable would fall dramatically."

Although the coronavirus is mainly dangerous, to the point of fatality, to the elderly, younger people with certain conditions and co-morbid factors also succumb. Such factors include diabetes and immune system disorders. One of the highest co-morbid factors which increases risk of severe infection among younger people is obesity.

Jewish Voice: National Institute of Health Under Obama Administration Gave $3.7 Million to Wuhan Laboratory for Virus Experiments on Bats

In other coronavirus news, the well-respected Jewish Voice has picked up and vetted a study leaked to the UK Daily Mail which reveals that the US National Institute of Health, in 2011, funded the study of bizarre experiments in the Chinese Wuhan national laboratory on bats involving coronaviruses, class of viruses which also includes SARs (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.)

In the piece, "Bombshell Report: In 2011 U.S Gave $3.7 million to Wuhan Laboratory for Conducting Virus Experiments With Bats," the Jewish Voice says that the study seems to have been leaked to the Daily Mail by China for "blackmail" purposes. The Jewish Voice writes:

"What is most interesting is that China gave this information to The Daily Mail, almost as if it was to blackmail America for funding this experiment. Many questions remain to be answered and this is a fascinating development. This is news you will not be seeing heavily covered on cable news even though it is coming from a reputable source, The Daily Mail."

In the experiments, experimenters grew the virus in a lab and injected it into three-day-old piglets, then ground up Intestinal samples from sick piglets and fed them to other piglets. Of the study, posted at the scientific repository PLOS Pathogens, US Congressman Matt Gaetz remarked to the Daily Mail:

"I'm disgusted to learn that for years the US government has been funding dangerous and cruel animal experiments at the Wuhan Institute, which may have contributed to the global spread of coronavirus, and research at other labs in China that have virtually no oversight from US authorities."

The study is entitled "Discovery of a rich gene pool of bat SARS-related coronaviruses provides new insights into the origin of SARS coronavirus."

Title page, NIH-funded Wuhan Laboratory study, "Discovery of a rich gene pool of bat SARS-related coronaviruses provides new insights into the origin of SARS coronavirus."
Title page, NIH-funded Wuhan Laboratory study, "Discovery of a rich gene pool of bat SARS-related coronaviruses provides new insights into the origin of SARS coronavirus." | Source
Funding acknowledgements, "Discovery of a rich gene pool of bat SARS-related coronaviruses provides new insights into the origin of SARS coronavirus."
Funding acknowledgements, "Discovery of a rich gene pool of bat SARS-related coronaviruses provides new insights into the origin of SARS coronavirus." | Source

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    • profile image

      munkle 

      2 months ago

      CJ Kelly - Obviously he was more correct than Fauci's model, which predicted 200,000 dead, with "social distancing."

    • profile image

      munkle 

      2 months ago

      CJ Kelly - So when you cannot in any way rebut his argument, go for a cheap ad hominem attack, right? He never said he was a tenure-track professor, many of whom are whores because their tenure depends on what their grant-givers want to hear. He said he was an epidemiologist and data scientist. Which he is. His list of publications is extensive and impressive What are you, CJ Kelly, besides a cheap shot artist?

    • CHRIS57 profile image

      CHRIS57 

      2 months ago from Northern Germany

      There may be some light coming to the darkness of not knowing anything.

      Here in Germany the Robert Koch Institute recently published some interesting figures about effectiveness of measures.

      2 measures seem to be effective:

      - closing of schools

      - no events, congregations, gatherings

      Significantly less effective (almost not measureable) appears to be social distancing.

      Keep schools closed and it will do most of the trick, if you do testing, testing, testing and track contacts.

      Another investigation in Russia showed, that stay at home orders tend to compromise the immune system, even for younger people. Explains the high mortality in elderly nursing homes. People don´t have to be old to be hit by Corona, weak immunity seems to be enough.

      Could provide links, but they are in German or Russian, respectively.

      Anyways, this Dr. Wittkowski may not be spot on, but his assertion on social distancing holds some truths, carefully speaking.

      For now, the USA is not in the position to make any kind of conclusions. There is way too little testing and tracking done, statewise and nationwise. This is why the approach of Dr. W. to look at other countries is certainly more promising.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 

      2 months ago from PNW

      From the Independent:

      "Dr. Wittkowski’s modelling predicted that COVID-19 would cause less than 10,000 deaths in the U.S. As of this writing, deaths exceed 22,000." He was a bit off...

      He's also been disavowed by Rockefeller U. On their own website, it further states, "Wittkowski was previously employed by Rockefeller as a biostatistician. He has never held the title of professor at Rockefeller."

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