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October 6, 2020

Did the Lockdowns Work?

A new study looks at the effect on the pandemic from shutting down the economy.

“15 days to slow the spread.” Those were the original White House guidelines released on March 16 when it became clear that the coronavirus posed a serious threat. Here we are more than 200 days later, and there are still numerous lockdown restrictions in many parts of the country. Certainly, COVID proved too formidable for a brief fight, but far too many Democrat officials saw a political opportunity to do damage to the economy and thus hurt the reelection chances of President Donald Trump.

We’ve said all along that limited lockdowns would have been better — quarantine and protect older and more vulnerable Americans while letting the economy continue to function as close to normal as possible. Comprehensive lockdowns did more harm than good.

Which brings us to another study arguing just that. Professors Doug Axe, William Briggs, and Jay W. Richards authored The Price of Panic: How the Tyranny of Experts Turned a Pandemic into a Catastrophe. In the book, the trio explores a fundamental question: “Did the lockdowns make a difference?”

“If lockdowns really altered the course of this pandemic, then coronavirus case counts should have clearly dropped whenever and wherever lockdowns took place,” they write in a National Review op-ed. “The effect should have been obvious.”

Unfortunately, they conclude, it wasn’t. “To judge from the evidence, the answer is clear: Mandated lockdowns had little effect on the spread of the coronavirus.” Using a series of charts for several states, they look for a spike in cases, the date of the lockdown (if any), and the “transition to a flatter curve” or any decline in cases.

What did they find?

“The lockdowns can’t be the cause of these transitions. In the first place, the transition happened even in places without lockdown orders (see Iowa and Arkansas). And where there were lockdowns, the transitions tended to occur well before the lockdowns could have had any serious effect. The only possible exceptions are California, which on March 19 became the first state to officially lock down, and Connecticut, which followed four days later. Even in these places, though, the downward transitions probably started before the lockdowns could have altered the curves.”

In fact, “If we showed people these curves without any markings, they would not be able to discern when or even if lockdowns went into effect.”

An alternative timeline will never be known. All we can do is evaluate what was done and what actually happened. But from the available evidence, it doesn’t seem that creating a massive recession to achieve a negligible effect on the pandemic was worth it.

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