Were the Coronavirus Lockdowns Just a Huge Mistake?
This guest post is authored by John Hawkins
In the beginning, when we didn’t know as much as we do now, it’s easy to see how lockdowns might have seemed to make a certain kind of sense in a handful of places. After all, we thought the virus could have a fatality rate as high as 3 or 4% and Italian hospitals were being overrun to the point where the doctors couldn’t effectively treat all their patients. So, the idea of “flattening the curve” for a couple of weeks in some areas to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed in densely packed areas with dangerously growing caseloads seemed like a painful, but workable strategy.
The problem was that definition never fit 99% of America. In fact, it arguably never fit anywhere other than New York City. Yet, 43 states put some kind of blanket stay-at-home order in effect to “flatten the curve.” Except there wasn’t any sort of meaningful curve to flatten in most of America. In no place other than New York City were the hospitals in danger of running out of space. In the end, even there we were able to handle things so easily that the 1,000-bed hospital ship Comfort only saw 200 patients in a month before it left since it wasn’t needed. When you consider that New York had more than twice as many infections per million people as New Jersey, three times as many as California and Illinois and 429 times as many cases as Wyoming, which never closed, it’s pretty clear we were never in any real danger of running out of hospital space anywhere with the possible exception of New York City.
Of course, then Americans were hit with a bait and switch. States were closed with the idea of flattening the curve, but it quickly became let’s stay locked down until the virus is no longer a significant threat. Doing stay-at-home orders for that reason never made any sense because IF there is a vaccine, it’s likely to take 12-18 months to be ready for mass distribution and that’s on an extremely accelerated timeline. However, the smart bet is that there will NEVER be a vaccine. In other words, years into the future, we could still be getting the Coronavirus. Sure, we can hope for a vaccine or that some treatment like Hydroxychloroquine or Remdesivir will turn into a magic bullet that will be so effective it could make the Coronavirus as dangerous as a cold, but there is no way to really know if and when it will happen. Initially, there were some thoughts that if we could get the number of people infected low enough, local governments could do contact tracing in order to quarantine people that had encountered the infected. That would require local governments to do extensive testing, interview the infected to find out where they were and then ask all the people that came into contact with them to voluntarily quarantine themselves.
The real problem with that solution is that it requires a lot of competence on the part of local governments along with a lot of cooperation and trust of the government by the people infected. Unfortunately, both of these factors are in such short supply that it’s hard to see this working anywhere it would be most needed. Do you think they can pull effective contact tracing off in NYC? LA? Chicago? New Orleans? Not a chance in hell. In other words, what’s the long-term plan supposed to be? Stay locked down until a miracle happens?
Consider the fact that the damage done by locking down the country in an ill-thought-out attempt to fight the Coronavirus has been cataclysmic. Some people estimate that 42% of the 36 million-plus jobs lost in recent weeks are permanent. Our GDP sunk by 4.8% in the first quarter and the Atlanta Fed believes it could drop another 42% in the 2nd quarter. Economists are projecting that more than 100,000 small businesses have already failed with more to come. A real, honest to goodness depression is possible. Meanwhile, the group Well Being Trust estimates that 75,000 Americans could die from drug abuse, alcohol abuse, or suicide as a result of the Coronavirus, the lockdowns, and the devastating economic impact.
Furthermore, it’s not as if we don’t have alternatives. 7 states never had stay-at-home orders in place. Not one of them is in the top 10 most infected states in the country. The states that have opened back up? Despite the frightening predictions of useless models that have been consistently wrong, we didn’t see massive increases in infections in those states. Additionally, we now know that in Denmark, reopening schools and daycares didn’t increase infection rates because the Coronavirus simply doesn’t impact or transmit to kids the way it does adults. Furthermore, while we have always known that the Coronavirus has been much more dangerous to older people, we now know that AT LEAST 42% of Coronavirus deaths are from nursing homes and assisted living facilities. We also know that while the Coronavirus is certainly serious and nobody should want to get it, it’s clear that the most vulnerable people are 60 and above.
Once you look at all this, the alternative to lockdowns becomes obvious. Open everything up. Send kids back to school. Encourage the population to wear masks inside, social distance, and wash their hands. Take special care to protect nursing homes. Encourage older Americans to take extra precautions. Then, we keep calm and carry on like the Brits did in WW2 while we hope for a vaccine or miracle drug but prepare for this virus to be a problem longer-term. Arguably, more people may get infected that way than staying locked down. However, we don’t really have much of a choice. The damage being done by the lockdowns is enormous. Furthermore, the longer the stay-at-home orders go on, the less the people affected are going to obey the restrictions. Some of us never obeyed them at all. Others did for a time, but you can’t expect people to sit in their houses and let their families go hungry over a virus that they are highly unlikely to get and are highly unlikely to die from if they are younger.
Some of us have been saying that the lockdowns were a mistake from the start, but even if you were in favor of them to begin with there’s no shame in looking at the new information that has come available and changing your mind. One day, it will be widely accepted that these lockdowns were a mistake. Can we all go ahead and admit that now or are some of us just not there yet?