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November 16, 2020

Should Covid Survivors Have to Quarantine?

A virtual dinner table conversation.

As of today, we’ve had 2,899 cases of Covid detected in Vermont. Fortunately, all but 59 have survived. These survivors, once they finish treatment, cannot transmit Covid to anyone else nor is there any likelihood of their getting it again in the near future. Is there any reason why they should have to quarantine?

Since those known to have the disease are only 0.5% of our population, the question isn’t pressing yet. But cases are growing rapidly, unfortunately. Moreover there are probably many more people who have had the virus and don’t know it. Cheap and accurate tests for immunity will soon be available. Soon (I hope) our medical workers and first responders will receive vaccine, which won’t provide total immunity but will reduce the odds of catching or passing on the disease. At what point should there be separate rules for those who are not a contagion risk?

Equity would seem to say that it is double punishment to have had the disease and then have to quarantine anyway. Practicality says it’s hard enough to enforce one set of rules for everybody; and all hope of compliance may disappear if there are different rules for different folks. Do you give the evil eye to people not wearing a mask in the grocery store and stay as far away from them as possible; or do you assume that they are immune survivors or have had their shots?  Do stores ask for proof of prior infection before letting people in? Should restaurants and ski areas be allowed to rebuild their businesses by catering to survivors and eventually the vaccinated? Should survivors be given preference for public-facing jobs?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. I’d ordinarily use them as fodder for dinner table conversation, but I can’t have the same conversation with Mary every night and we can’t have anyone else at our dinner table.

We will eventually have to answer these questions no matter how soon we have a vaccine. If the vaccine is delayed, we will have more and more immune survivors. If the vaccine is ready on an optimistic schedule, we’ll have more and more people with partial acquired immunity. Either way or both, there will be too many people who don’t pose a risk to maintain quarantine for administrative convenience. If restrictions are lifted too soon, the current resurgence may accelerate. If restrictions are lifted too late, they will be ignored.

My guess is that the draconian restriction prohibiting inter-household socializing will go first. It’s voluntary in the sense that it can’t be enforced. It obviously makes no sense for the non-contagious. Leaving it in place for any period of time without enforcement will erode compliance with all regulations. IMO the requirement for wearing masks in public places will stay in place the longest. It is annoying but doesn’t really restrict any activity. It prevents spread of flu and other diseases as well as Covid – important with possibly over-burdened hospitals. It is enforceable.

Once a vaccine is widely available, the lifting of restrictions on those who have had their shots not only makes sense but is an inducement for vaccination and a way that businesses can come back to life. Aren’t you more likely to fly if you know that everyone on the plane is Covid resistant, either because they are known to have had the disease or because they’ve been vaccinated? Wouldn’t you like to know that your kids’ teachers and classmates pose very little risk?

What do you think? Please pass the virtual peas.

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