(ZEROHEDGE) – When discussing long-term solutions to the covid pandemic, which is clearly not going to go away on its own while about half the population may refuse to be vaccinated, epidemiologists argue that if 60% or more of the population gains immunity the disease can be contained without policy actions. However, according to Bank of America's latest assessment, even under the most optimistic assumptions relatively few communities are approaching “herd immunity.”

As BofA chief economist Ethan Harris writes, consider the extreme example of New York City, which has recorded 236,647 cases and 23,720 deaths due to COVID. That amounts to 2.7% and 0.3% of the population respectively. Clearly the number of true infections is much higher than the recorded cases due to low testing rates early in the crisis. So let’s focus on the more reliable death statistics.

By making assumptions about the true death rate from the disease, BofA backs out the implied infection rate. Thus if the true death rate is 0.5% (which in light of co-morbidities may be far higher than the real rate) then the true number of infections is 4.7 million (= 23,720/.005). That amounts to 54% of population. The good news is that New York might therefore be approaching herd immunity if it could close its borders and assuming true infections almost always create immunity.

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Unfortunately, as Harris concludes, at the national level the same calculation suggests that only 12% of the population has immunity, which is far below the critical 60% threshold.

So if herd immunity is out, or at least delayed indefinitely, then what?

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As Harris notes next, at times the COVID crisis is presented as a one-for-one trade-off between the economy and public health, although as experience across the world shows "nothing could be further from the truth."