A small town in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts has come out against a declaration made in its name by economists and scientists who advocate for a so-called “herd immunity” strategy to get through the coronavirus pandemic.
The Great Barrington Declaration, released last week, urges against lockdowns and economic restrictions governments have used to wrestle the virus under control.
The statement was named for Great Barrington, Mass., home to the American Institute for Economic Research, a libertarian think tank that convened its authors.
Instead of lockdowns, the document advocates for younger and healthier people to go about their daily lives as normal, in hopes that enough people will build an immune response to the virus to create a population-wide immunity.
Public health experts have called the concept of herd immunity — a term derived from livestock management — extremely dangerous. Though the coronavirus has lower mortality rates among younger people, that rate is not zero, and even those who have more moderate cases have suffered long-term consequences.
In an interview Wednesday, Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Prevention at the University of Minnesota, called the Great Barrington Declaration “a dangerous mix of pixie dust and pseudoscience.”
Great Barrington, the city, is siding with the public health experts rather than its hometown think tank.
“We are a Covid safe community, we are not tossing off our masks,” Mark Pruhenski, Great Barrington’s town manager, said in a statement.
“We wear masks, keep safe distances as we can in public,” said Stephen Bannon, the chairman of the town Board of Selectmen. “We are among the lowest risk towns in the state, and we hope to keep it that way.”
The statement says town leaders “believe herd immunity is a dangerous Covid-19 strategy.”
Town leaders say they share empathy and concern for the toll the pandemic is having on local businesses and communities, but that their answer is to fill food banks with donations, offer rides and shopping services to seniors, and child care to essential workers.
“Anyone who might avoid Great Barrington, due to confusion over the Declaration, is invited to visit and see how Covid-safe works in a small New England town,” the statement says.
Its conclusion: “Please wear a mask.”