David Pisarra

Herd immunity. It’s the topic that’s on a lot of people’s minds. It’s being sought after in Sweden with their more open response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s something we’re stepping into in America in various states and cities. But what the heck does it mean? I’ll try to explain my understanding of it, below, remember I’m a divorce and child custody lawyer, not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV.

Let’s take 100 people who are exposed to the coronavirus. None of them are immune to this new virus. The virus comes along and all of them exposed to it. With no immunity they should all get sick. In reality some get very sick, some are mildly sick, and some don’t even notice they have the virus in their system.

The theory is that once exposed to the virus, people’s immune systems will respond. Those who get very sick – their response is either too much or too little – the doctors who are treating these patients are not really sure which it is right now. Of those who have a mild reaction or no symptoms, the current thinking is that they have developed an immunity to the virus going forward, but we don’t know if that is permanent or how strong it is.

What that means to me is that four people will die and we will have 96 survivors who should now be immune to this virus. So when they are exposed to it, they don’t get sick, and hopefully, they don’t become carriers who can give it to people who are not immune to it.

Now the idea of herd immunity is that we don’t actually need all 100 people to be exposed for the pandemic to slow or stop. The thinking is that if only 60 people were exposed and developed an immunity, if they get exposed again, they wont be carrier or get sick. Which means that the virus doesn’t spread nearly as quickly or completely.

For example let’s take a different set of 100 people, 60 of whom are immune to the virus and 40 have never been exposed before. If they are all exposed, 60 of them will be fine because they are immune, of the 40 left, 1.6 (4% fatality rate) will die, and 38.4 of them will be mildly sick or have no symptoms, and will become immune themselves.

You can see that as more people are exposed and survive the rate of fatality stays the same, but the pool of people who can die gets smaller, which means fewer deaths, and less strain on the medical system, which hopefully can save even more of them.

So why not have a coronavirus party like when I was a kid and we had a chicken pox party to make sure that we all got it? Well two main reasons, 1) it’s that pesky fatality rate – we weren’t risking death, just an itchy two weeks 2) no one was worried about the hospitals being overrun with too many children needing calamine lotion and ice cream.

As a society we value life over money, and keeping our medical system in a serviceable position. That was exemplified this weekend when the USNS Mercy was sent back to San Diego, essentially unused. What is the cost to us for doing so? Immense. We are losing, I’m guessing, about 70% of the restaurants that we all know and love. Probably 50% of small businesses will not survive this economic downturn for a variety of reasons – probably the most significant of which is being able to pivot, advertise and find new clients. Some will survive, and some will thrive.

What I’ve noticed is that some entrepreneurs are taking a very active stance towards survival. For example, my client Z Garden Mediterranean on Pico within a week of the shutdown was calling me to figure out how to promote themselves, what to do to serve the community and keep their staff working. We launched a daily lunch special, had the windows sign painted so that the few people who were driving by could see they were still open and pivoting to the new reality. We launched an aggressive text and email campaign. The owner Nasir Nasir is making outreach phone calls to his customers to stay in touch and monitor how they’re doing and what they need. We focused on new protocols for contactless delivery, sanitation and provided all the staff with masks, sanitizer and gloves.

Other restaurants closed up shop and couldn’t find a way to pivot. I feel sad for them, because I imagine if they’re not in my office for a divorce, they may be for a bankruptcy strategy session – pretty sure I’ll be doing a lot of those in the coming months. Many an entrepreneur will be needing to start over with a clean slate in the next 9 months.

Of course all of this may come to an end rather quickly. If it turns out that there has been a much larger infection rate than we thought, we may be approaching a level of herd immunity that would allow us to open up faster and save some of those businesses and lives. Word is coming out that the early trials of one vaccine is resulting in ‘very encouraging’ results.

We’re not out of the woods on this by any measure, but so far it also hasn’t been the mass extinction event that some were painting it as. Too many people died, too many are still at risk, and we need to be vigilant, but also take a more clear eyed view of the situation in order to confront the reality.

David Pisarra is a Los Angeles Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at dpisarra@pisarra.com or 310/664-9969. You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra

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  1. Turns out that one of the seamen on the Roosevelt who had the virus and recovered is sick again. We really don’t know about immunity protection, and if the disease can return, or appears to return because it has remained dormant, your argument regarding herd immunity has flaws. In Sweden, where herd immunity has been proacticed, it has led to a much larger than average death rate among the old. If your reasoning is followed, it will lead to a disproportional amount of deaths among the old, but businesses will succeed for youth and the middle-aged.

  2. You’re suggesting that four out of 100 people would die (this is probably a little high) and suggesting that we only need 60 out of 100 people to get it in order to get herd immunity for all of us (but it might be 70). So let’s say two out of every 100 people will die. Maybe that doesn’t sound like much, but the US has 320 million people.

    So you’re proposing that six million people die in the United States (rendering our sacrifices up to this point kind of meaningless). And we’d need other countries to do it too, so that’s more than 150 million people around the world, if your statistics are right.

    What’s more important than keeping 150 million people alive when we know that there’s a decent chance that we might be able to?

    You know that we only lost 75 million (including genocide, starvation, bombings) during WWII.

  3. Well said!!! Finally…someone with some common sense! More people need to read this. Thank you!

  4. Finally, some one with some common sense! Well said! More people need to read this! Thank you!

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