Opinion: Lift stay-at-home order and open schools in most of state

Robert L. Steele

In Michigan and elsewhere, we hear “following the science” as justification to extend statewide stay-at-home orders and school closings.

The goal of the shelter-in-place order was to "flatten the curve" and protect the health care system. With public-private partnerships, massive federal funding and logistical support there are now plenty of personal protective equipment and ventilators available in Michigan. Many temporary overflow facilities were decommissioned without ever accepting a single patient.

In Michigan, the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized, in the ICU and on ventilators has decreased significantly. With increased testing in asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic populations, the newly diagnosed patients will be less sick and require fewer medical resources. This potential increase in cases should not inform the stay-at-home order.

Not only has the U.S. health care system not been overwhelmed, it has rapidly developed new treatments. 

Asymptomatic COVID-19 is widespread. In New York, 15% of pregnant women presenting for delivery were infected, 88% asymptomatic. Four state prison systems found 96% of infected inmates asymptomatic.

Worldwide data suggests the overall mortality rate of COVID-19 will approximate that of the seasonal flu. The CDC recently reported hospitalization rates in those over 65 are similar in coronavirus and influenza. In New York City, the death rates of those requiring ventilators is similar between COVID (88%) and non-COVI (80%) patients with chronic respiratory disease. Mortality rates less than 0.1% are found in patients under 50 years old with no co-morbidities. Ninety-eight percent of the cases worldwide are called mild.

Sweden never closed its schools, and in Australia, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, schools are reopening if not already reopened. A large study by the Australian equivalent of the CDC concluded that, “data from both virus and antibody testing to date suggest that children are not the primary drivers of COVID-19 spread in schools or in the community.” 

The Netherlands CDC-equivalent likewise concluded "that children play a small role in the spread of the novel coronavirus. The virus is mainly spread between adults and from adult family members to children.”

The healthy and low-risk students should not be deprived of their educations or livelihoods, Steele writes.

The CDC reports much lower hospitalization rates in those aged 0-17 with COVID-19 compared with influenza. 

Without enacting severe shut-downs like in France, Spain and Italy, the governments of Sweden, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan used targeted strategies against the virus with dramatically better disease control.

Shelter-in-place should be individualized by regions and industries starting now. Most schools should reopen. While high-risk groups should be kept at home or shelter in place, the healthy and low-risk students, workers and business owners should not be deprived of their educations or livelihoods.

The data is clear; let’s follow it.

Robert L. Steele, M.D., has been practicing medicine in Michigan for over 35 years. He is a committeeman for the Republican National Committee.