Dear Editor,

School has started and nearly everyone in Buffalo has their fingers crossed. Face-to-face learning is, unquestionably, superior. It’s what parents and students want. Everyone was Zoomed out from the spring. But will it work?

The coronavirus is patient. Americans are often impatient when it comes to COVID-19. At present there are 40,000 new infections per day and 1000 deaths - both down somewhat from May. Automotive deaths are only 100 per day for the United States. So, the COVID-19 death rate is 10 times the automotive death rate, but Americans accept it. Also, the death toll in the United States is the highest in the world — 10 times the death toll of Britain, France, Spain, Germany and Italy combined.

Nor is COVID-19 anywhere near contained in the U.S. or the world. Despite using tougher containment measures than us, Germany, France and South Korea have an upsurge in cases. And RNA viruses mutate readily. COVID-19 has already undergone one. The D614G mutation didn’t make the virus more lethal, but it probably made it more transmissible. What if the next mutation makes it more lethal or resistant to vaccines currently under development?

Buffalo is lucky that it hasn’t had a major outbreak. People rarely wear masks. There have been numerous events where social distancing was iffy. LaGrande, Oregon had hundreds of cases when a church held services without these safeguards. We don’t know yet the impact of the Sturgis Rally. If COVID-19 does hit, it will hit harder because, instead of six degrees of separation, small towns only have two.

Yes, the death rate from COVID-19 and the severity of illness is clearly linked to age and other health factors. But researchers do not know what long term effects there might be with younger patients. Post-polio syndrome — muscle weakness and exhaustion — has impacted people who had mild cases of polio as children in the 1950s. Long-term pulmonary effects from COVID-19 are not known.

With fall and winter approaching, will the closed environment of a school building make transmission more likely? Do counties in northern Wyoming have the capacity to treat patients from a major outbreak similar to those in Texas and Florida? What is the prudent balance?

John Egan

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