It’s time to let the young, healthy and “anyone who wants to move on” from the pandemic do so, said Dr. Stefanos Kales, a professor at Harvard Medical School.
In a paper posted on LinkedIn last month, Kales said that for the majority of children and adults, “Covid-19 is not a serious threat, only a nuisance that impedes schooling, work and travel.”
“Once Omicron peaks, subsequent variants are likely to be even more mild,” he said. “We badly need to allow the general public, particularly the young, to get back to normal life.”
He said he favors focusing Covid-19 efforts on “the vulnerable” rather than the population as a whole.
“Many reasoned, outspoken and honest scientists have been making the point that Covid-19 is moving rapidly from a ‘pandemic’ … to an ‘endemic’ respiratory infection comparable to the common cold and flu,” he said.
In light of this, it’s “past due” to rethink some Covid protocols, he said.
Less testing and fewer restrictions
With the exception of older people, those with health problems and the unvaccinated, Kales said, for most people, Covid-19 is “much more of a logistical nightmare than a health threat.”
It’s therefore time to stop — or dramatically reduce — testing healthy people who show no Covid symptoms, he said, calling this strategy “doomed to failure.”
“As expressed by another physician I recently heard on the radio, it is like trying to stop a snowstorm by catching each and every snowflake, rather than keeping the roads open by plowing,” he said.
Widespread testing — for travel and work — makes it harder for sick and vulnerable people to get tested, said Kales.
“We would never screen well people for the cold or flu virus. Let’s stop testing healthy kids in schools and universities,” he said. “At this point, the teachers, faculty and staff have had the opportunity to be vaccinated and thus, their risk is minimal as well.”
Those with Covid-19 symptoms are a different matter, he said. Regardless of vaccination status, they need to be tested, diagnosed and given effective medications, he said, adding that sick people — “whether it’s Covid or a cold” — should stay home for five days.
The risk perception here is way off.
Dr. Stefanos Kales
Harvard Medical School
Kales said many current protocols are from medical professionals who focus exclusively on infectious diseases, rather than public health.
“Public health is a balance,” he said.
‘Overestimating’ danger of Covid
Kales said he’s a strong advocate for vaccinations, despite their inability to prevent infections caused by the omicron variant.
“The vaccines … they’re excellent,” he said. “They’ve saved many lives, and they’ve prevented many hospitalizations and much illness.”
Vaccinated people, however, are still fearful of being infected, said Kales.
Dr. Stefanos Kales cited the National Football League’s decision to stop testing asymptomatic players because “they were sidelining too many healthy” players. But, he said, he supports surveillance testing for those who work in nursing homes and with other immunocompromised people.
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He said vaccinated people are overestimating the danger that Covid poses to them. He recalled younger vaccinated people telling him they aren’t comfortable dining inside restaurants yet.
“I just think that the risk perception here is way off,” he said.
Still, some say there may be reason to continue exercising caution. Dr. Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, posted on Twitter today that the notion that Covid “will evolve to a less virulent strain may exemplify wishful thinking.”
Not there yet
Kales’ opinions differ from many in the medical community, which as a group has been among the staunchest proponents of pandemic protocols.
One such person is Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, who said this week that the United States may be heading into a new phase of the pandemic. But, he cautioned, it isn’t there yet.
“I have said, and continue to say, that currently we are still at war with the virus,” he said Monday on “The Daily,” a podcast published by The New York Times. “We have 2,300 deaths a day, 156,000 hospitalizations, and we have the danger of new variants occurring.”
Though he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci said another variant could arise that eludes current immunity. “I hope that’s not the case,” he said. “I don’t think it will be, but we have to be prepared.”
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Kales said he believes the number of people hospitalized with Covid-19 has been overestimated. He pointed to an “Incidental Covid-19 Report” published this week by the Massachusetts Department of Health, which showed 49.5% of the state’s Covid-19 patients were hospitalized due to “primary” Covid infections, while 50.5% patients tested positive after being hospitalized for other reasons.
In response, Kales said: “With all due respect, I do think it’s time to move on.”
Loosening travel curbs
Kales said he doesn’t believe testing and vaccination requirements for travel are effective public health measures. He said countries are moving away from these types of restrictions.
In the past week, Puerto Rico and Aruba announced they are dropping testing requirements for some vaccinated travelers.
Airlines and other travel industry groups on Wednesday asked the Biden administration to drop testing requirements for inbound vaccinated travelers to the United States. A letter to the White House that was seen by CNBC cited the pervasiveness of Covid-19 in the United States, increased immunity and vaccination rates, and the availability of new medical treatments.
Dr. Stefanos Kales said N95 and other high-grade medical masks work, but there is “essentially universal consensus that cloth masks don’t.”
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Professor Cyrille Cohen, head of the immunotherapy laboratory at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, agreed that vaccination-based travel restrictions are making “less and less sense.”
But, he said, since unvaccinated people are more at risk of severe disease, countries may want to keep measures that help prevent hospitalizations, particularly if their medical systems are strained.
Cohen, who said he does not believe that Covid-19 is endemic yet, said he supports testing requirements for international travel “until the situation stabilizes.”
“We know that variants are still developing around the world,” he said. “We do believe that the omicron may help transitioning from [a] pandemic state to an endemic state. But until that happens, I think we should continue with testing before getting on the plane.”