August 24, 2020

Memo to Joe: Lockdowns Do More Harm Than Good

Data increasingly shows that these authoritarian lockdowns were an egregious policy error.

“I would shut it down; I would listen to the scientists,” said Joe Biden on Friday when asked by ABC News whether he’d lock down the nation again if there’s a second wave.

But what if those scientists are dead wrong? What if nationwide lockdowns have done much more harm than good?

We remember President Trump’s original directive from mid-March: “15 days to slow the spread.” So we dutifully and patriotically obliged. Soon thereafter, though, it became 45 days, and we began to wonder: And then what? Another month? And then another?

Originally, our goal was to slow the spread and thereby keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed — which we did. But somehow, folks got it in their heads that a complete lockdown of our country — schools, sports, restaurants, movie theaters, social gatherings — was the best way to handle the Wuhan coronavirus. It wasn’t.

As John Hinderaker writes, “Governments around the world have responded to COVID-19 with more or less harsh (but, of course, never complete) shutdowns of economic and social activity. The costs of these shutdowns have been enormous, obvious and undeniable, while the alleged benefits have been hypothetical and speculative. As experience with the virus accumulates, there is, I think, a growing consensus that the shutdowns have been worthless, or close to worthless.”

Another piece of evidence recently joined this consensus: a chart and an accompanying article from the Mises Institute. Its author, Gilbert Berdine, MD, an associate professor of medicine at Texas Tech, compares daily COVID deaths per million of population in Sweden, New York, Illinois, and Texas.

“Sweden (blue dots) has served as a control group to compare policies intended to decrease deaths from covid-19,” Berdine explains. “Sweden has been unfairly criticized for its policy despite having an outcome more favorable than places with authoritarian lockdown policies. Sweden did not close its schools. Other than stopping gatherings of more than 50 people, the Swedish government left decisions of closing businesses, using masks, and social distancing to the Swedish people.”

In other words, Sweden didn’t freak out, didn’t radically lock down like we did here in the U.S., and it paid respect to both the fundamental yearning for human freedom and the common sense of its people.

The result? “Mortality attributed to covid-19 hit a peak value of 11.38 deaths per day per million population on April 8,” says Berdine. “This mortality was matched on April 15, and mortality has decreased since then, [with] less than one death per day per million population for the previous 18 days. … For all practical purposes, the covid-19 epidemic is over in Sweden. Almost certainly herd immunity has been achieved. … Whether covid-19 will reappear this next fall or winter remains to be seen.”

Now let’s compare Sweden to New York, where Governor Andrew Cuomo has been yukking it up with his brother, taking bizarre victory laps, and dodging an investigation into his calamitous leadership during the crisis.

As Berdine notes, “New York (brown dots) has been a catastrophe. On March 20, a full lockdown was implemented. … In addition to the lockdown, nursing homes were ordered on March 25, to accept patients positive for the covid-19 virus in transfer from hospitals. … By April 7 … a daily mortality of over 50 deaths per day per million population had been reached. This daily mortality rate was almost five times the peak rate observed in Sweden, where no lockdown was implemented.”

Berdine continued, “The New York policy assumed that all human interactions carry the same risk of death by covid-19. The New York data clearly shows that interactions among young and healthy people have a much different risk than interactions between the young and elderly and interactions among the elderly.”

Cuomo’s policies, then, maximized deaths among the elderly, which wiped out any benefit from locking down everyone else.

Due to their lockdowns, neither Illinois nor Texas has achieved herd immunity, but neither did they implement a disastrous nursing home order, so their death tolls are just a fraction of those in New York.

Berdine’s conclusion is what you might expect: a devastating indictment of authoritarianism. “The data suggest that lockdowns have not prevented any deaths from covid-19,” he says. “At best, lockdowns have deferred death for a short time. … After taking the unprecedented economic depression into account, history will likely judge these lockdowns to be the greatest policy error of this generation. Covid-19 is not going to be defeated; we will have to learn how to coexist with it. The only way we can learn how best to cope with covid-19 is to let individuals manage their own risk, observe the outcomes, and learn from mistakes. The world owes a great debt to Sweden for setting an example that the rest of us can follow.”

But remember: Joe Biden “would shut it down” all over again.

(Visit our comprehensive CV19 Pandemic response and recovery page to review our comprehensive timeline on government and political actions related to the pandemic, and see our related pages.)

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