COVID-19 Challenges For All of Us

The current pandemic has turned our world upside down.  SARS-CoV-2, the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic, is a “novel” virus, which means that it is new and nobody on the planet has been exposed to it before.  This also means that nobody has immunity to it.

Only one of two scenarios will end this nightmare: a reliable vaccine, or achieving a “herd immunity” of about 70% of the population.

Herd immunity is a form of indirect protection from infectious disease that occurs when a large percentage of a population has become immune to an infection, whether through vaccination or previous infections, thereby providing a measure of protection for individuals who are not immune.

Therefore, the timeline to return to “complete” normal will be about 18 months from now, because it is unlikely that the vaccine would be available in South Africa sooner (albeit, multiple agencies are fast tracking the process, so we might all be surprised).  The SARS outbreak, from 2002 till 2004, which was also a Corona Virus and also started in China, took 2 years to “burn out”.

What does this mean at a very practical level?  Well, until the vaccine arrives, most of us will become exposed and develop immunity.  Obviously, people at high risk must avoid exposure at all costs.  People at high risk will only be “safer” from infection when herd immunity is established.

Life must go on and we cannot exist in a Level 5 lockdown indefinitely.  The sooner we have herd immunity, the better.

The outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 amongst passengers on two ships, the Diamond Princess cruise liner and the USS Theodore Roosevelt warship, has led to several, interesting studies being conducted.

These studies have helped us to learn and understand that more than 50% of positive cases will be asymptomatic.  In other words, people who test positive for SARS-CoV-2 will still remain completely healthy and not experience any symptoms despite “fighting” off the virus and developing immunity.  In the case of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the “healthy”, infected group was around 60% of the crew, which is completely understandable because the average age on board was younger relative to the age of passengers on the Diamond Princess.

The Jockeys are young (less than 60 years old) and healthy.  All of the Jockeys in Johannesburg were tested for SARS-CoV-2.  Almost all tested negative.  The small number that tested positive were completely asymptomatic and remain healthy.  There is no doubt that they contracted the virus outside of racing venues, because these were closed during the lockdown.  The Jockeys live far apart from each other, in different municipalities and rode work somewhat occasionally, at different venues.

It must be expected that if you were to randomly test any group of people in South Africa right now, you would find positive tests.  It is not currently known what percentage of the population has developed herd immunity.  Estimates from some Virologists range between 3% to maybe 20% in Cape Town, a “hotspot” area.  In 18 months, herd immunity should be at around 70% of the population.

Until then, based on the timing to achieve heard immunity and/or have access to a vaccination, the current practice of social distancing and sanitisation is recommended.  We expect the number of new cases to increase and, unfortunately, we also anticipate an increase in the death rate.

That being said, people under 60 years of age with no co-morbidities (chronic diseases), have more chance of dying in a car accident than succumbing to SARS-CoV-2.

We know that some are more at risk than others.  The risk factors for contracting SARS-CoV-2 and experiencing severe symptoms include the following:  People older than 60 years of age (the risks for people older than 80 is predictably much more significant), moderate to severe chronic lung diseases, poorly controlled diabetes, poorly controlled hypertension, serious heart conditions, chronic renal disease on dialysis, chronic liver disease, severe obesity (Body Mass Index over 40), immunocompromised patients, (chemotherapy patients, patients with uncontrolled HIV, bone marrow or organ transplants), advanced pregnancy (>28 weeks).

The current racing structure (behind closed doors) is well-suited to be safer than any other industry right now.  Only the Jockeys that tested negative are racing, for a limited number of hours over a few days a week.  The chance of contracting COVID-19 is much greater outside of the racetrack venues; at any shop for that matter.

There is no need to panic!  Drive carefully on the roads.  For most of us, that is far more dangerous.  If you have any of the above risk factors, isolate yourself from society completely, if you can.  As for the rest of us, we should continue to follow the recommended public health practices of social distancing and sanitisation.  It must be said that the sooner we become immune, the better for everyone, including the very old and those at high risk.