“don’t worry about surfaces” Covid-19 Interview with Dr. Osterholm

I referred to Dr. Michael Osterholm’s 2005 article in a previous post that helped my thinking about this pandemic. National Public Radio’s Fresh Air program featured an interview with him. Osterholm’s publishing company is putting out a new version of his 2017 book, “Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs“. He is the director of a disease research center at the University of Minnesota. From the interview, I learned the following key points.

  • The public is confused about this coronavirus and what is safe and what is not safe. Dr. Osterholm looks at decades of research of influenza transmission via surfaces and states that “clearly surfaces play very little role in the transmission of viruses”. We have gone overboard with disinfection. The transmission “is really all about air, and breathing someone’s air borne virus.
  • No one needs to be frightened of their environment, it is the air that they are breathing. He does not worry any more about food, packages, doorknobs, railings, than he would during the regular cold & flu season. He still recommends washing hands regularly. “It is the air that we share with each other that is critical.”
  • He also doesn’t think the antibody tests are worth doing because they are very poor.
  • Science does not understand the causes of influenza pandemic waves. Why they occur, why they stop, why a second wave comes.
  • Only 5-7 % of the USA population has been infected with this coronavirus. This virus will not stop transmitted until it reaches 60-70% of the population and we develop immunity. Think about the disruption and pain the past 4 months. We have a long way to go.
  • The big question is the race to get a vaccine which is the other way to end this epidemic. Recent polls show however, that 30% of Americans would not take the vaccine, which is part of the anti-vaccine movement.
  • Pandemic fatigue worldwide has set in. However, influenza pandemics last for many months and even years, and it will be difficult to keep physically distancing while a vaccine is being developed. He also reminds us that an 18-month lockdown would bring devastation on many fronts. He says we need to balance reopening with distancing and hygiene measures.
  • I am sadly not surprised at the number of death threats Dr. Osterholm has received by the public. This is part of the anti-science drive in American culture.
  • Being outside greatly reduces the risk of transmission. Wind dissipates the virus rapidly.

Dr. Osterholm runs the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. Their Covid-19 webpage has lots of good information.

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