Despite the fact that the United States is the world epicenter of the coronavirus, registering more than 1.3 million positive cases and 80,000 deaths from COVID-19, the population of the North American nation seems to be unaware of the risk that they may become infected and lose their life.
Washington state health authorities warned of «COVID-19 parties,» in which people who are not infected mingle with positive cases in an effort to intentionally contract the virus to become immune.
Washington Health Secretary John Wiesman reported that officials in Walla Walla County, located 420 kilometers southeast of Seattle, reported that around 100 residents appear to have been infected at the «BYOC parties» (Bring Your Own COVID-19 or «bring your own COVID-19»), «whose objective is to bring together people with the virus with others who are not infected and who want to catch it to get sick at once».
That county’s director of health, Meghan DeBolt, explained that 94 cases and one death related to BYOC parties had been recorded.
«We asked about the contacts and 25 people told us: we were at a COVID party», he said, quoted by the AFP agency.
DeBolt dismissed such behavior as irresponsible and urged residents to follow appropriate physical and social distancing measures to prevent transmission of the virus.
«We need to use common sense and be smart as we move through this pandemic. The COVID-19 parties are not part of the solution», he said in a statement.
For his part, Wiesman warned that «meeting in groups in the midst of this pandemic can be incredibly dangerous and puts people at an increased risk of hospitalization and even death».
Walla Walla County is not the only place in the United States where the COVID-19 parties have taken place. Last March, a party in the state of Kentucky, which caused the death of a young man, made the headlines.
According to the governor of this entity, Andy Beshear, those attending the party intentionally gathered «thinking they were invincible» and deliberately defied the directive to practice social distancing.
«Anyone who goes to something like this may think they are indestructible, but it is their own loved ones who they are going to hurt», said Bashear.
According to reports, those attending the COVID-19 parties are young people, a population that is at risk, because they are more reluctant to practice social distancing, which is one of the main prevention measures in this pandemic.
In fact, the virus appears to be affecting young Americans more than it has in countries like China.
A report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that 20% of people hospitalized with coronavirus are between the ages of 20 and 44, in the United States alone.
«So far, the demographics definitely seem to be very different in the United States versus other countries that saw this tendency earlier», said American physician Jerome Adams to NBC.
In New York, the epicenter of the pandemic in that country, more than half of the coronavirus cases have occurred among people between the ages of 18 and 49, according to Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Risk of re-infecting themselves again?
Washington Health Secretary John Wiesman recalled that it is still unknown whether people recovering from COVID-19 remain immune after overcoming illness.
«There is still a lot we don’t know about this virus, including any long-term health problems the infection may leave behind», he stressed.
In fact, cases have been reported of patients who are testing positive after overcoming the disease.
Maria Van Kerkhove, an epidemiologist at the World Health Organization (WHO), indicated that there are cases of people who, after having failed the COVID-19 tests, «after a week, two, or even longer, return to come out positive» to the Covid-19.
However, she explained that while the lungs are healing, some of their dead cells are expelled and «it is these fragments of the lungs that are testing positive», said the expert.
She reported that the tests recommended by the WHO to detect the coronavirus detect the genetic material of the virus and can give a positive result because part of it is expelled by the human body, which is why the tests are positive in patients who have already recovered, she explained to the BBC.
«It is not the infectious virus, it is not reinfection, it is not a reactivation, it is actually part of the body’s healing process, which is captured by the test and ends up giving a positive result», she stressed.
However, when asked if a patient recovered from COVID-19 can contract the disease again, the WHO specialist said that there are still many unanswered questions.
«What we know so far is that when a person is infected with COVID-19, they develop antibodies and display part of an immune response between one and three weeks after infection (…) and what we are trying to understand now is that response from the immune system: does that mean you have immunity? Does that mean you have stronger protection against reinfection?”, she said.
«And if so, for how long does this protection extend to?», asked Van Kerkhove.
Although the so-called COVID-19 parties are seen as irresponsible actions against the danger posed by the coronavirus, some scientists raise the possibility of letting many people catch the virus in order to stop infections.
The so-called «herd immunity» is a «controlled contagion» strategy that basically proposes to increase the number of positive cases and the circulation of people on public roads to accelerate the generation of antibodies in citizens and the creation of a immunological barrier.
However, it is a plan that generates controversy and divides the opinions of experts and health authorities in several countries.
The portal El País, from Uruguay, recalled that one of the nations that defended itself as a herd immunity model was Sweden, by choosing to circulate the virus seeking not to collapse the health system.
With just 10 million inhabitants, the European nation has around 3,000 deaths and the lethality of the virus stands at 12%.
In contrast, its neighbor Norway applied early quarantine and records a third of confirmed cases and just 214 deaths (3% case fatality).
In this regard, Gustavo Lopardo, infectious disease specialist and former president of the Argentine Society of Infectious Diseases, told the Uruguayan portal that the strategies proposed so that most people, particularly the young and healthy, acquire the infection, develop antibodies so that the virus has no chance of attacking older adults, has no scientific support yet.
“There is one detail that they do not take into account: it is one thing that we have antibodies and another that we are immune. To take just one example: HIV generates antibodies, but they are not protective. There are infections that occur once in a lifetime, such as measles. With SARS-CoV-2 we are not sure that it generates immunity. Long-term immunity requires precisely the long term, and here (with Covid19) there was still no time to check this», he explained.
For his part, Roberto Etchenique, analytical chemist from the Faculty of Exact and Natural Sciences of the University of Buenos Aires, explained that immunity can only be achieved with vaccination and not randomly in the midst of the pandemic.
“If in a population, one has an R3 (each patient transmits the virus to three people), in each generation the number of infected people increases threefold. Suppose half of those people are immunized and don’t transmit it, so the R drops to 1.5. If two thirds are immunized, the R drops to 1, and if 70% are immunized, the R drops to less than 1″, he said.
«If you wanted to do a real herd immunization, you would have to choose which group to protect and you should inoculate the virus on a scheduled basis, something that would be completely illegal and inhumane. It would be like a ‘pseudo-vaccine’ with a huge mortality rate. With the other way that they propose, people die without distinction. Herd immunity in these conditions is a mountain of coffins», he said.