Has New York City achieved herd immunity?

There is very good news regarding the worry of catching COVID-19 in NYC. Deaths are down from nearly 600-a-day in April to 2-a-day as of August 18 (and likely zero by now). Most people I know attribute this to a combination of the lockdown and the use of masks and social distancing. I attribute it to NYC having achieved herd immunity. Below is the evidence that supports my belief.

First, compare the timing and shape of these graphs of COVID-19 deaths in NYC (lockdown, mandatory masks) with Sweden (no lockdown, no mandatory masks, achieved herd immunity) over the same timeframe.

Daily COVID-19 deaths over time in New York City

(The screenshot was taken 8/24/20, the callouts were added by the author.)

Daily COVID-19 deaths over time in Sweden

Of course, it could be objected that in Sweden the reduction of deaths to zero can be ascribed to the achievement of herd immunity, while in New York City the same reduction could alternately be ascribed to the achievement of herd immunity, the lockdown, the mandating of masks, or some combination of the three. However, if we consider the chronology of events in New York City, we can eliminate both the lockdown and the use of masks as possible causal factors.

Emergency department visits in New York City due to flu-like symptoms

Source: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/covid/covid-19-data.page. The screenshot was taken 8/16/20, the callouts were added by the author.)

As regards the consideration of the lockdown as a causal factor, here are the three relevant facts to consider: (1) One needs to be infected approximately 10 days earlier before one begins showing the symptoms of COVID-19. One generally would not visit an emergency room until a few days after symptoms first appear. (2) The peak of hospital visits occurred on March 25th; this means that the peak of infections occurred 10–13 days earlier, between March 12–15th. (3) The lockdown of New York City occurred a week or more after the peak of inflections, on the evening of March 22nd. That means that the lockdown occurred too late to either “flatten the curve” or “slow the spread,” but not too early to slow down the process of herd immunity. On March 25th, 10–13 days after the peak of infections, and a mere 2–3 days after the start of the lockdown, the number of visits to emergency rooms began trending downward rapidly. If the lockdown on 3/22 was the causal factor, the trend downward would not have begun until 10–13 days later, on 4/1–3.

As regards the effect of mask usage, this downward trend was already a third of the way down the chart by the time Dr. Fauci reversed his position and began suggesting the use of masks, and two-thirds of the way down the chart by the time Governor Cuomo mandated the use of masks. This eliminates the usage of masks as a causal factor in the reduction of deaths as well.

Subsequent events provide further evidence of both correlation and causation as regards the development of herd immunity to COVID-19 in New York City during this period.

Beginning on May 28, after the daily New York City COVID-19 death toll had been reduced from 598 to 38, and while New York City was still in lockdown, daily protests of thousands of people in close proximity and chanting loudly were allowed to take place throughout the city by Governor Cuomo (who otherwise prohibited public gatherings until June 7, after which date he allowed gatherings, not related to the protests, of up to ten people). Had herd immunity not already been achieved, i.e., had the lockdown and the combination of masks and social distancing been the causal factor underlying the continuous reduction in deaths, we could have expected to see an increase in the number of deaths starting a few weeks later, and continuing during the subsequent three months. Yet the decrease from 38-a-day to 2-a-day continued without interruption.

Beginning June 21st, with daily deaths down to 28, Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio began to allow outdoor dining in New York City. This entailed many thousands of people throughout the city, in groups of two or more, carrying on conversations, while facing each other, two—not six—feet apart, without masks, for 1-2 hours at a time. Surely if the virus was still circulating, surely if masks and social distancing were required to stop infections at this point, we would have seen some increase in deaths beginning a few weeks later and continuing until the present. But the decrease in the daily death toll in New York City continued without even a slight interruption.

What’s left when the data eliminates the lockdown, social distancing, and the use of masks as causal factors in the disappearance of the virus from New York City? Herd immunity (or divine intervention), just as in Sweden.

If one agrees with my analysis so far, the conclusion necessarily follows that Governor Cuomo’s lockdown neither “flattened the curve,” nor “slowed the spread,” nor significantly affected the spread of COVID-19 in any way. As such, it was not needed at all for the achievement of any purpose. It never should have happened.

I credit my understanding of events above to having had the good fortune to encounter a debate featuring epidemiologist Dr. Knut Wittkowski, “Did the Lockdowns Save Thousands of Lives? A Soho Forum Debate.” His 15-minute opening argument, on which my analysis of the emergency room timeline is based, can be seen here. It includes not only the timing of the events but also a detailed explanation of the epidemiological principles, supported with charts, that explain them. 

In addition to Dr. Wittkowski’s analysis of the lockdown in New York City, one of his insights that have been most helpful to me is the following: “A respiratory virus disease epidemic stops when herd immunity develops, either without a vaccine (which is what normally happens) or with a vaccine (if there should be one available in time). A lockdown, masks, distancing, travel restrictions, etc. can prolong that process (to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed), but does not reduce the number of infections, illnesses, or deaths.”

In contrast to the inductions from the data that I’ve made above is the narrative of Governor Cuomo, who is the architect of New York’s lockdown, which he refers to as “the pause,” a pause five months and running that he is presently making more, not less, restrictive, most recently by forbidding music and dancing. His poster, which depicts this narrative, is below.

There are many things that could be said about this narrative. I will only mention what is most striking to me.

While admonishing the rest of the United States to “forget the politics” it concludes that “New York State,” i.e., Governor Cuomo, “leads again.”

It correctly implies that the lockdown caused the collapse of New York City’s economy. However, it views that collapse abstractly, as a downward flow of dollar signs rather than as millions of people who have lost their careers and livelihoods in a city that has been devastated. And it views the financial collapse flippantly, in the form of a humorous pun.

The placement of the Governor’s mask mandate at the top of the curve implies that it was the decisive causal factor in lowering daily deaths from their peak down to zero. Given that all of New York City seems afraid to take off their masks, including when they are riding their bikes, it would seem that this narrative has been effective.

But we will have an opportunity to further understand the Governor’s self-assessment of his achievements soon, when his book, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic,” is released on October 13th.

Governor Cuomo is, of course, a politician, not an epidemiologist. From what theory, put forth by what epidemiologist, do his narrative and his policies depend?

The alleged need — unprecedented in human history — to impose a long-term lockdown of the healthy as a requirement to avoid mass death was first advanced on March 17th by Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist with a long history of making wildly inflated predictions of disaster, based on a paper that he published a day earlier. In that paper, the concept that we now call a “lockdown” and that Governor Cuomo calls a “pause” was introduced as a concept that Ferguson called “suppression.” According to Ferguson, suppression “aims to reverse epidemic growth, reducing case numbers to low levels and maintaining that situation indefinitely” and would “need to be maintained until a vaccine becomes available (potentially 18 months or more).” Ferguson’s claim that without such a policy millions more deaths would ensue was based, not on scientific inductions from data, but on computer-modeled predictions that — like his earlier predictions — he subsequently admitted were inflated by an order of magnitude.

As an alternate public policy, in the same paper, Ferguson proposed a concept he called “mitigation,” which would focus on “slowing but not necessarily stopping epidemic spread — reducing peak healthcare demand while protecting those most at risk of severe disease from infection.” This is the concept that was sold to the public as a two-week-long necessity to “flatten the curve,” a new term that was coined on Twitter on February 28th.

Of course, once sold to the public, the alleged need for a 2-week long lockdown to “flatten the curve” (Ferguson’s strategy of “mitigation”) soon transmuted into a subsequent 30-day need to “Slow the spread” (a diluted version of Ferguson’s strategy of “suppression”), which has now transmuted into its full-strength version of an alleged need to maintain a state of semi- or possibly full-lockdown until a vaccine becomes available.

What about when (if) a vaccine is developed? Will that finally end the pandemic and the need for masks, social distancing, and lockdowns? Not necessarily, according to Dr. Fauci, a non-epidemiologist whom we are told is “the nation’s top infectious diseases expert” whenever and wherever his name is printed or spoken. Dr. Fauci maintains that, while in his view a vaccine is a necessary precondition to achieving herd immunity, it still may not be sufficient.

Is it unreasonable to ask then, at this point, what is the endgame of Dr. Ferguson and Dr. Fauci, whose policy prescriptions have ended livelihoods, decimated New York City, and are predicted to lead to a national depression more severe than anything the United States has ever experienced if not reversed?

To return to the subject of a city that is already experiencing a severe depression: it has now been five months since the beginning of the “pause” in New York City. The data is in. The death rate predicted to be 3.4% by the WHO in March is in fact .26% as reported by the CDC in July. Deaths, when the virus was still spreading, many months ago, were at an average age of 78, 43% of them in nursing homes, 94% of whom had comorbidities. They are now approaching zero. At what point do we begin questioning the moral and intellectual authority of two politicians — Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio — and the radical political prescriptions of American health “experts” with dubious track records who themselves are in the wrong fields — immunologist (Dr. Fauci), virologist (Dr. Redfield), and physician (Dr. Birx)—while censoring and ignoring epidemiologists such as Dr. Wittkowski?

When do we finally decide to take off our masks and end the lockdown?


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