The Lockdown Paradigm Is Collapsing
TUESDAY, APR 20, 2021 - 07:25 PM
It’s taken much longer than it should have but at last it seems to be happening: the lockdown paradigm is collapsing. The signs are all around us.
The one-time hero of the lockdown, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, is now deeply unpopular and most voters want him to resign. Meanwhile, polls have started to favor Florida governor and lockdown opponent Ron DeSantis for influence over the GOP in the future. This remarkable flip in fortunes is due to the dawning realization that the lockdowns were a disastrous policy. DeSantis and fellow anti-lockdown governor Kristi Noem are the first to state the truth bluntly. Their honesty has won them both credibility.
Meanwhile, in Congressional hearings, Representative James Jordan (R-OH) demanded that Dr. Fauci account for why closed Michigan has worse disease prevalence than neighboring Wisconsin which has long been entirely open. Fauci pretended he couldn’t hear the question, couldn’t see the chart, and then didn’t understand. Finally he just sat there silent after having uttered a few banalities about enforcement differentials.
The lockdowners are now dealing with the huge problem of Texas. It has been fully open with no restrictions for 6 weeks. Cases and deaths fell dramatically in the same period. Fauci has no answer. Or compare closed California with open Florida: similar death rates. We have a full range of experiences in the US that allow comparisons between open and closed and disease outcomes. There is no relationship.
Or you could look to Taiwan, which had no stringencies governing its 23.5 million people. Deaths from Covid-19 thus far: 11. Sweden, which stayed open, performed better than most of Europe.
The problem is that the presence or absence of lockdowns in the face of the virus seem completely uncorrelated with any disease trajectory. AIER has assembled 33 case studies from all over the world showing this to be true.
Why should any of this matter? Because the “scientists” who recommended lockdowns had posited very precisely and pointedly that they had found the way to control the virus and minimized negative outcomes. We know for sure that the lockdowns imposed astonishing collateral damage. What we do not see is any relationship between lockdowns and disease outcomes.
This is devastating because the scientists who pushed lockdowns had made specific and falsifiable predictions. This was probably their biggest mistake. In doing so, they set up a test of their theory. Their theory failed. This is the sort of moment that causes a collapse of a scientific paradigm, as explained by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962).
A good example of a similar situation might be the Soviet economy under Nikita Khrushchev. He came to power with a promise that he would make the Russia economy under communism perform better than the United States. That was the essence of his famous promise “We will bury you.” He meant that Russia would outproduce America.
It did not happen. He failed and the theory he pushed failed alongside. And thus began the slow coming apart of communist theory and practice. Khrushchev had already repudiated the Stalinist terror state but never had any intention of presiding over the slow demise of the entire Soviet experiment in central planning. By setting up a test that could falsify his promise, he doomed an entire system to intellectual repudiation and eventual collapse.
The theory and practice of lockdownism could be going the same way.
In Kuhn’s reconstruction of the history of science, he argued that progress in science occurs not in a linear fashion but rather episodically as new orthodoxies emerge, get codified, and then collapse under the weight of too many anomalies.
The pattern goes like this. There is normal science driven by puzzle solving and experimentation. When a theory seems to capture most known information, a new orthodoxy emerges – a paradigm. Over time, too much new information seems to contradict what the theory would predict or explain. Thus emerges the crisis and collapse of the paradigm. We enter into a pre-paradigmatic era as the cycle starts all over again.
As best anyone can tell, the idea of locking down when faced with a new virus emerged in the US and the UK around 2005-2006. It started with a small group of fanatics who dissented from traditional public health. They posited that they could manage a virus by dictating people’s behavior: how closely they stood next to each other, where they travelled, what events they attended, where they sat and for how long. They pushed the idea of closures and restrictions, which they branded “nonpharmaceutical interventions” through “targeted layered containment.” What they proposed was medieval in practice but with a veneer of computer science and epidemiology.
When the idea was first floated, it was greeted with ferocious opposition. Over time, the lockdown paradigm made progress, with funding from the Gates Foundation and more recruits from within academia and public health bureaucracies. There were journals and conferences. Guidelines at the national level started to warm to the idea of school and business closures and a more broad invocation of the quarantine power. It took 10 years but eventually the heresy became a quasi-orthodoxy. They occupied enough positions of power that they were able to try out their theory on a new pathogen that emerged 15 years after the idea of lockdown had been first floated, while traditional epidemiology came to be marginalized, gradually at first and then all at once.
Kuhn explains how a new orthodoxy gradually replaces the old one:
When, in the development of a natural science, an individual or group first produces a synthesis able to attract most of the next generation’s practitioners, the older schools gradually disappear. In part their disappearance is caused by their members’ conversion to the new paradigm. But there are always some men who cling to one or another of the older views, and they are simply read out of the profession, which thereafter ignores their work. The new paradigm implies a new and more rigid definition of the field. Those unwilling or unable accommodate their work to it must proceed in isolation or attach themselves to some other group.
That’s a good description of how lockdown ideology triumphed. There are plenty of conspiracy theories out there concerning why the lockdowns happened. Many of them contain grains of truth. But we don’t need to take recourse to them to understand why it happened. It happened because the people who believed in them became dominant in the world of ideas, or at least prominent enough to override and banish traditional principles of public health. The lockdowns were driven primarily by lockdown ideology. The adherents to this strange new ideology grew to the point where they were able to push their agenda ahead of time-tested principles.
It is a blessing of this ideology that it came with a built-in promise. They would achieve better disease outcomes than traditional public health practices, so they said. This promise will eventually be their undoing, for one simple reason: they have not worked. Kuhn writes that in the history of science, this is prelude to crisis due to “the persistent failure of the puzzles of normal science to come out as they should. Failure of existing rules is the prelude to a search for new ones.” Further: “The significance of crises is the indication they provide that an occasion for retooling has arrived.”
Kuhn’s theory of scientific progress fits rather well with the rise and fall of lockdownism. They had a theory that converted many people away from traditional principles. That theory came with a test. The theory has failed the test – that much is becoming more obvious by the day.
The silence of Fauci in Congressional hearings is telling. His willingness only to be interviewed by fawning mainstream media TV anchors is as well. Many of the other lockdowners that were public and preening one year ago have fallen silent, sending ever fewer tweets and content that is ever more surreptitious rather than certain. The crisis for the fake science of lockdownism may not be upon us now but it is coming.
Kuhn speaks of the post-crisis period of science as a time for a new paradigm to emerge, first nascently and then becoming canonical over time. What will replace lockdown ideology? We can hope it will be the realization that the old principles of public health served us well, as did the legal and moral principles of human rights and restrictions on the powers of government.
FRAUDULENT MODELS – FATAL CONSEQUENCES
Published May 19, 2020 | By Julie Kelly
It was the model that shocked the world.
In mid-March, British researchers issued an alarming study that predicted 2.2 million Americans would die of COVID-19 by August without immediate, draconian measures to halt its spread.
As the virus rampaged across the country, more than 80 percent of Americans would be infected, the experts warned, causing massive shortages of hospital beds and intensive care units. Death and misery would be the new norm for months to come.
Dr. Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at the London-based Imperial College who led the team, made “social distancing” a household term.
“A combination of case isolation, social distancing of the entire population and either household quarantine or school and university closure are required,” Ferguson wrote. “All four interventions combined are predicted to have the largest effect on transmission.”
Ferguson’s work terrified policymakers, the news media, and general public. Dr. Deborah Birx referenced the model during a March 16 press briefing at the White House.
“Sweeping new federal recommendations announced on Monday for Americans to sharply limit their activities appeared to draw on a dire scientific report warning that, without action by the government and individuals to slow the spread of coronavirus and suppress new cases, 2.2 million people in the United States could die,” the New York Times reported March 16.
Ferguson strayed from the role of objective scientist to global policy advisor, insisting his harsh rules should continue for at least 18 months until a vaccine was found. “It’s a difficult position for the world to be in,” he opined after his paper’s release.
Acting on Ferguson’s doomsday predictions, the Centers for Disease Control issued strict guidance that prompted state officials to close schools; shutter “nonessential” businesses; and issue stay-at-home orders. They simply were acting on the best available science and data, governors claimed, as they ordered their constituents to live under a form of house arrest for weeks on end.
Crude Mathematical Guesswork
But Ferguson’s study wasn’t science—or anything close to it.
Like so many scientific “models,” the purpose of Ferguson’s work was to influence policy decisions instead of providing a forecast of future events based on solid data.
Ferguson’s computer model code is a “buggy mess that looks more like a bowl of angel hair pasta than a finely tuned piece of programming,” experts told the London Telegraph on Saturday (5/16). “It’s totally unreliable.”
A few weeks after issuing his first set of charts, Ferguson drastically reduced the projected body count without explanation.
Now, as the consequences of Ferguson’s untested prescription to mitigate COVID-19 are coming into stark relief, including historic rates of unemployment and other unforeseen tragedies, his work is facing broad condemnation.
One software engineer, in a thorough analysis of Ferguson’s methods, said that “all papers based on this code should be retracted immediately. Imperial’s modelling efforts should be reset with a new team that isn’t under Professor Ferguson.”
A weekend column in The Telegraph concluded that Ferguson’s coronavirus models “could go down in history as the most devastating software mistake of all time, in terms of economic costs and lives lost.”
Matt Ridley, author of numerous award-winning scientific books, posed this blunt question: “Did we base one of the biggest peacetime policy decisions on crude mathematical guesswork?”
The answer, unfortunately, is yes.
But it’s too late to extract any accountability from Dr. Neil Ferguson. In what now looks like a convenient excuse, Ferguson stepped down from his government advisory post earlier this month for breaking his own social distancing policy by having an affair with a married woman. His resignation came just as criticism of his study intensified both here and in the U.K.
Now there is no way to question Ferguson publicly let alone censure him for his reckless work.
Murray’s Defective Model
Ferguson’s model, however, isn’t the only fraudulent model that led to destructive policy decisions. Citing the Imperial College model, Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle, produced another set of graphs at the end of March that expanded on Ferguson’s pseudoscientific “social distancing” demands.
Much like Ferguson, Murray portrayed plague-like conditions in the United States once COVID-19 took hold.
“In addition to a large number of deaths from COVID-19, the epidemic will place a load on health system resources well beyond the current capacity of hospitals in the USA…especially for ICU care and ventilator use,” Murray warned. “The estimated excess demand on hospital systems is predicated on the enactment of social distancing measures within three weeks in all locations that have not done so already and maintenance of these measures throughout the epidemic.”
Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci, without subjecting the raw paper to any peer review, presented Murray’s charts to President Trump at the end of March. According to the president, they then insisted he “shut everything down.” The CDC guidance, first implemented for 15 days, was extended to April 30. (Murray’s model has been updated 16 times since its March 26 release.)
Subsequently, the world’s most robust economy has crashed, 36 million Americans (and counting) have applied for unemployment, critical health care services have been delayed, kids will be out of school for at least five months, and economists are predicting a double-digit drop in economic growth for at least the next quarter—yet none of Murray’s most outlandish projections, including hospital bed and ventilator shortages, materialized.
Further, while Murray and his boosters made all sorts of noise about closing grade schools and staying six feet apart at the grocery store, they overlooked one critical vector for the disease: nursing homes.
It is increasingly likely that by the time all the data is collected and verified, at least half the total number of coronavirus-related fatalities will be tied to nursing homes and long-term care facilities. In some states, roughly three-quarters of all COVID-19 deaths have been nursing home residents.
The question of how to protect the most fragile and helpless from contracting coronavirus not only was ignored by the researchers at IHME, it also was of no concern to big-state governors including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and California Governor Gavin Newsom.
They, along with others, instituted policies that mixed infected nursing home residents with uninfected residents and workers. “The result has been a raging wildfire of infection and death,” one university professor of ethics wrote in the Times on Sunday. Some Congressional Republicans want investigations into the deadly decisions.
So, as modelers and governors warned about the dangers of healthy beach-goers, tens of thousands of vulnerable seniors succumbed to COVID-19.
Ironically, because of the large numbers of nursing home fatalities, Murray’s overall death count might be right despite his glaring omission. He will take credit for accuracy even though he never factored in nursing home residents or bothered to offer strategies to protect them.
The White House still has time to rectify its reliance on these fraudulent models. The president could begin by acknowledging both the Ferguson and Murray studies were highly flawed documents that fueled unnecessary fear. If he is serious about opening up the country as quickly as possible, President Trump needs to acknowledge the mistake.
Tear up the ever-changing CDC guidance, protect the most vulnerable, prepare our healthcare system, and get Americans back to work and back to normal. These models, and the decisions based on them, should not inflict any more damage.
Source: Dr. Terry Rickard
Did Sweden Get COVID Right?
July 25, 2020
While most other countries instituted stay-at-home orders and shuttered schools and businesses, Sweden did not
While high schools and universities closed and gatherings of more than 50 people were banned, elementary and middle schools, shops and restaurants have remained open in Sweden during the pandemic
Evidence suggests Sweden may be at or nearing the herd immunity threshold, which occurs when the number of people susceptible is low enough to prevent epidemic growth
Stanford’s Nobel-laureate Michael Levitt is among those in support of Sweden’s lighter restrictions; Levitt successfully predicted the trajectory of COVID-19 deaths in China and has stated that the pandemic would not be as dire as many have predicted
Scientists from France found there was no significant transmission of COVID-19 in primary schools, either among the students or from students to teachers
Sweden continues to stand by their handling of the pandemic, despite heavy criticism; the country’s state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, even described the rest of the world’s lockdowns as “madness,” considering the steep side effects they ultimately cause
In the U.S., even as the COVID-19 curve appears to have flattened, and death rates for some groups have fallen to almost zero,1 dire warnings about an ominous "second wave" continue.
Likewise, Sweden, a country that has handled the pandemic differently than most of the globe, is being chided for its looser restrictions and lack of lockdowns, even as data suggest their refusal to implement a full shutdown of their society may have been the best approach after all.
While most other countries instituted stay-at-home orders and shuttered schools and businesses, Sweden did not. While high schools and universities closed and gatherings of more than 50 people were banned, elementary and middle schools, shops and restaurants have remained open during the pandemic.2
Now, news outlets are trying to use Sweden as an example of what not to do to fight COVID-19, citing a high death toll. "The country's mortality rate from the coronavirus is now 30% higher than that of the United States when adjusted for population size," CBS News reported,3 but this doesn't tell the full picture of how Swedes have fared in comparison to the rest of the world.
Sweden May Be Close to Reaching Herd Immunity
If a novel virus is introduced to a population, eventually enough people acquire natural immunity so that the number of susceptible people declines. When the number susceptible is low enough to prevent epidemic growth, the herd immunity threshold, or HIT, has been reached.
With SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, some estimates have suggested that 60% to 70% of the population must be immune before HIT will be reached, but researchers from Oxford, Virginia Tech, and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine4 found that when individual variations in susceptibility and exposure are taken into account, the HIT declines to less than 10%.5
Independent news source Off-Guardian6 cited data from Stockholm County, Sweden that showed an HIT of 17%,7 as well as an essay by Brown University Professor Dr. Andrew Bostom, who explained:8
"… [A] respected team of infectious disease epidemiologists from the U.K. and U.S. have concluded: 'Naturally acquired immunity to SARS-CoV-2 may place populations over the herd immunity threshold once as few as 10-20% of its individuals are immune.'"
And, as pointed out in Conservative Review:9
"… Naturally acquired herd immunity to COVID-19 combined with earnest protection of the vulnerable elderly — especially nursing home and assisted living facility residents — is an eminently reasonable and practical alternative to the dubious panacea of mass compulsory vaccination against the virus.
This strategy was successfully implemented in Malmo, Sweden, which had few COVID-19 deaths by assiduously protecting its elder care homes, while 'schools remained open, residents carried on drinking in bars and cafes, and the doors of hairdressers and gyms were open throughout.'"
Off-Guardian continues with Stanford's Nobel-laureate Michael Levitt, who is among those in support of Sweden's lighter restrictions. Levitt successfully predicted the trajectory of COVID-19 deaths in China, including when the deaths would slow, and has stated that the pandemic would not be as dire as many have predicted.
Have Sweden's COVID-19 Deaths Peaked?
What's more, in an interview with The Stanford Daily, Levitt stated in May 2020, "If Sweden stops at about 5,000 or 6,000 deaths, we will know that they've reached herd immunity, and we didn't need to do any kind of lockdown."10
As of July 17, 2020, there were 5,619 deaths in Sweden due to COVID-19,11 and in a study released by Levitt and colleagues June 30, 2020, which analyzes COVID-19 outbreaks at 3,546 locations worldwide, it's predicted that Sweden's total COVID-19 deaths will plateau at about 6,000.12
So far, Levitt is spot-on, and it appears, indeed, that Sweden's COVID-19 deaths have slowed, peaking at more than 100 deaths per day and now, midsummer, tallying in the low teens. The intensive care unit at Stockholm's Sodertalje Hospital has also cleared out, housing 77 cases during the pandemic's peak and only four cases as of July 17, 2020.13
Sweden's Epidemiologist Calls Lockdowns 'Madness'
Sweden continues to stand by their handling of the pandemic, despite heavy criticism. The country's state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, even described the rest of the world's lockdowns as "madness," considering the steep side effects they ultimately cause.
Levitt suggested that not only did lockdowns not save lives, but likely cost lives due to social damage, domestic abuse, divorces, alcoholism and other health conditions that were not treated.14 Bloomberg reported:15
"'It was as if the world had gone mad, and everything we had discussed was forgotten,' Tegnell said in a podcast with Swedish Radio … 'The cases became too many and the political pressure got too strong. And then Sweden stood there rather alone.'"
Tegnell stated that shutting down schools was also unnecessary during the pandemic, and scientists from the Institut Pasteur in France indeed found that there was no significant transmission of COVID-19 in primary schools, either among the students or from students to teachers.16
"The study also confirmed that younger children infected by the novel coronavirus generally do not develop symptoms or present with minor symptoms that may result in a failure to diagnose the virus," study author Bruno Hoen added.17
Meanwhile, while Sweden has encouraged its citizens to engage in social distancing, mask usage is another story, and Tegnell has stated that there's little evidence for wearing face masks.18
Stanford Expert Slams Lockdowns
Outside of Sweden, other experts, including epidemiologist Dr. John Ioannidis of Stanford University, have also spoken out against statewide lockdown measures in response to COVID-19. Ioannidis suggests that 150 million to 300 million people may have already been infected globally and may have developed antibodies to the virus, and the median infection fatality rate has remained low at about 0.25%.19
As continues to be demonstrated, the elderly and those with underlying health problems appear to be most vulnerable, and protecting such populations should have been a priority. But lockdowns for young, healthy people are far more questionable. Speaking with Greek Reporter, Ioannidis said:20
"The death rate in a given country depends a lot on the age-structure, who are the people infected, and how they are managed. For people younger than 45, the infection fatality rate is almost 0%. For 45 to 70, it is probably about 0.05-0.3%.
For those above 70, it escalates substantially, to 1% or higher for those over 85. For frail, debilitated elderly people with multiple health problems who are infected in nursing homes, it can go up to 25% during major outbreaks in these facilities."
Overall, Ioannidis said the mathematical models that predicted hospitals would be overrun by COVID-19 patients were "astronomically wrong," and although a handful of U.S. hospitals did become stressed, no health systems were overrun.
"Conversely," he said, "the health care system was severely damaged in many places because of the [lockdown] measures taken," while lockdown measures have also significantly increased the number of people at risk of starvation while leading to financial crisis, unrest and civil strife.21
What's more, one study even found that 81% of people not exposed to SARS-CoV-2 were still able to mount an immune response against it, which "suggests at least some built-in immune protection from SARS-CoV-2 …"22
US Surgeon General Opposes Mask Mandate
With mask usage becoming an increasingly polarized debate, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams encouraged mask usage but spoke out against making them mandatory due to concerns that it could lead to rebellion.23
In my interview with Denis Rancourt, Ph.D., a former full professor of physics, and a researcher with the Ontario Civil Liberties Association in Canada, we also discussed the controversial topic of masks. Rancourt did a thorough study of the scientific literature on masks, concentrating on evidence showing masks can reduce infection risk, especially viral respiratory diseases.
If there was any significant advantage to wearing a mask to reduce infection risk to either the wearer or others in the vicinity, then it would have been detected in at least one of these trials, yet there's no sign of such a benefit. He said in our interview:
"It makes no difference if everybody in your team is wearing a mask; it makes no difference if one is and others aren't. Wearing a mask or being in an environment where masks are being worn or not worn, there's no difference in terms of your risk of being infected by the viral respiratory disease.
There's no reduction, period. There are no exceptions. All the studies that have been tabulated, looked at, published, I was not able to find any exceptions, if you constrain yourself to verified outcomes."
This is another area where Sweden has stayed ahead of the curve, as they've resisted asking the public to wear masks based on lack of evidence of effectiveness and the risk that they offer wearers a false sense of security. Tegnell did state that officials are considering whether to recommend masks during use of public transportation, but stressed masks "definitely won't become an optimal solution in any way."24
Sweden Speaks Out Against WHO Warning
In late June 2020, the World Health Organization counted Sweden among European countries at risk of seeing a resurgence of COVID-19. The warning was based on WHO data showing Sweden had 155 infections for every 100,000 inhabitants in the past 14 days, a higher rate than in most of Europe.25
Tegnell, however, said that this was a "total misinterpretation of the data" and WHO was confusing Sweden with countries just at the outset of their epidemics. Instead, any rise in infections is likely due to increases in testing, Tegnell said, adding, "They didn't call to ask us. The number of admissions to intensive care is at a very low level and even deaths are starting to go down."26
Time will tell whether Sweden's strategy, which avoided lockdowns and widespread mask usage, turns out to be the right one after all, but some believe the writing is already on the wall.27
"Dr. Michael Levitt and Sweden have been right all along," Off-Guardian reported. "The only way through COVID-19 is by achieving the modest (10-20%) Herd Immunity Threshold required to have the virus snuff itself out.
The sooner politicians — and the press — start talking about HIT and stop talking about new confirmed cases, the better off we will all be. Either way, it's likely weeks, not months, before the data of new daily deaths will be so low that the press will have to find something new to scare everyone. It's over."
Sources and References
2, 3, 13 CBS News July 17, 2020
4, 6, 27 Off-Guardian July 7, 2020
5, 8 medRxiv May 21, 2020
15, 18 Bloomberg June 24, 2020
19, 20, 21 Greek Reporter June 27, 2020
25, 26 BBC News June 26, 2020
Did the Lockdown Save Lives?
– May 19, 2020
For two to three months, Americans have suffered the loss of liberty, security, and prosperity in the name of virus control. The psychological impact has been beyond description. We thought we could count on basic rights and freedoms. Then over a few days in March, it all ended in ways hardly anyone could believe possible.
The manner in which governments dealt with foundational principles of modernity has been shocking. They put half the country under house arrest and managed every movement in disregard for the Bill of Rights and all legal precedent, to say nothing of the Constitution. It felt like a coercive unraveling of civilization itself. It’s like we are all waking up from a bad dream only to look around and see the wreckage that proves it was all real.
So how can we deal with this terror that befell us? One way is to figure out some aspect in which our sacrifice has been worth it, maybe not on net given the consequences, but surely some good has come out of this. If my email and feeds are correct, this is how many people have been justifying this. The psychology here is rooted in the sunk-cost fallacy: when you commit resources to something, even when it is a proven error, you tend to find justifications by doubling down rather than just admitting the mistake.
Thus have many people written me to say that whether you agree or disagree with the lockdown, we have to admit that it has saved millions of lives. I always write back and ask how they know that. They send me a link to a projection – those very projections that presume all kinds of things about cause and effect that we cannot know and which have proven wrong time and again throughout this crisis.
So let’s just grant that it is possible that lockdowns can be credited with slowing the spread of the virus, and perhaps preserving hospital capacity (which turned out to be unnecessary). Still, the virus doesn’t then get bored and move by to Wuhan or to another planet. It still sticks around, so at best, these measures only “prolong the pain,” in the words of Knut Wittkowski.
So even if lockdowns slow the spread in the short run, it’s not clear that they have saved lives from the coronavirus, even if it results in more death overall from deferred surgeries and diagnostics, suicides, drug overdoses, and depression.
The trouble here is that certain features of this experience stand out to contradict the idea that lockdowns are saving lives over the longer term. In New York, two thirds of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 were in fact sheltering in place during the lockdown, essentially living in forced isolation. The lockdown didn’t help them; it might have contributed to making matters worse.
Meanwhile, despite the media hate poured out against Florida’s youthful spring break revelers, where hundreds of thousands declined to socially distance at the height of the virus risk, I’ve yet to find a credible report of fatalities beyond two that were probably unpreventable. This is because the risks to the younger population are negligible, as we’ve known for a long time now.
In many countries, 30% to 60% of excess deaths trace to nursing homes. These environments are neither locked down nor open; the virus spread among the most vulnerable population after even just one exposure due to possible negligence and distraction by mass frenzy. In the midst of locking down the whole world, and our politicians were consumed with the desire to enforce stay-at-home orders and forced separation, the population that needed the most care was neglected. Even worse, in New York, California, and New Jersey, nursing homes were forced to take in COVID-19 patients.
One way we might discern whether and to what extent lockdowns have had any effect on infection and death is to examine the empirical case. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, T.J Rogers examined all the existing studies:
Do quick shutdowns work to fight the spread of Covid-19? Joe Malchow, Yinon Weiss and I wanted to find out. We set out to quantify how many deaths were caused by delayed shutdown orders on a state-by-state basis.
To normalize for an unambiguous comparison of deaths between states at the midpoint of an epidemic, we counted deaths per million population for a fixed 21-day period, measured from when the death rate first hit 1 per million—e.g.,‒three deaths in Iowa or 19 in New York state. A state’s “days to shutdown” was the time after a state crossed the 1 per million threshold until it ordered businesses shut down.
We ran a simple one-variable correlation of deaths per million and days to shutdown, which ranged from minus-10 days (some states shut down before any sign of Covid-19) to 35 days for South Dakota, one of seven states with limited or no shutdown. The correlation coefficient was 5.5%—so low that the engineers I used to employ would have summarized it as “no correlation” and moved on to find the real cause of the problem. (The trendline sloped downward—states that delayed more tended to have lower death rates—but that’s also a meaningless result due to the low correlation coefficient.)
No conclusions can be drawn about the states that sheltered quickly, because their death rates ran the full gamut, from 20 per million in Oregon to 360 in New York. This wide variation means that other variables—like population density or subway use—were more important. Our correlation coefficient for per-capita death rates vs. the population density was 44%. That suggests New York City might have benefited from its shutdown—but blindly copying New York’s policies in places with low Covid-19 death rates, such as my native Wisconsin, doesn’t make sense.
Turning to the international front, consider the work of Isaac Ben-Israel, head of the Security Studies program in Tel Aviv University and the chairman of the National Council for Research and Development. His detailed study from around the world compares locked down countries with those that stayed open. The Times of Israel summarizes his findings as follows.
A prominent Israeli mathematician, analyst and former general claims simple statistical analysis demonstrates that the spread of COVID-19 peaks after about 40 days and declines to almost zero after 70 days — no matter where it strikes, and no matter what measures governments impose to try to thwart it.
Even a casual look at the open societies of Sweden and Korea – despite going too far in interventions – demonstrate that they experienced lower rates of death than Europe and the U.K. Even the World Health Organization has praised Sweden’s response.
And a very careful empirical study of counterfactuals in Sweden concluded:
On the basis of the available data, we find that a lockdown in Sweden would not have limited the number of infections or the number of COVID-19 deaths. Theory suggests that this may be the result of people maintaining a larger social distance even in the absence of a lockdown—there could be, in other words, voluntary social restraint. Krueger et al. (2020), in particular, show this in the context of a formal model and suggest that this may be the relevant case for Sweden
Cause and effect are notoriously difficult to discern in human affairs on a macroscale. Even if it connects somehow to intuition that locking down keeps the virus away, they do not deal with the reality that the virus is still there, even if temporarily contained (which itself is arguable).
Quarantines, lockdowns, shelter-in-place orders and so on reflect a premodern bias and an unscientific impulse to run away and hide, a method used from the ancient world through selective quarantines in some cities in 1918. Then we got smart, developed a modern theory of viruses (well explained here), and eschewed them in every pandemic since World War II. Then, somehow, and mysteriously, one century flipped to the next and we got dumb again and here we are.
Did the lockdown save lives? It’s possible but not yet proven, and the evidence so far points to a negative answer. No matter how much we try to spin this in our heads, no matter how much we want to believe that something good has come out of this catastrophe, we are all going to have someday to deal with the terrible but likely reality that it was all for naught.
I conclude with the words of the great physician who is credited with smallpox eradication, Donald A. Henderson (1928-2016).
The interest in quarantine reflects the views and conditions prevalent more than 50 years ago, when much less was known about the epidemiology of infectious diseases and when there was far less international and domestic travel in a less densely populated world. It is difficult to identify circumstances in the past half-century when large-scale quarantine has been effectively used in the control of any disease. The negative consequences of large-scale quarantine are so extreme (forced confinement of sick people with the well; complete restriction of movement of large populations; difficulty in getting critical supplies, medicines, and food to people inside the quarantine zone) that this mitigation measure should be eliminated from serious consideration.
Jeffrey A. Tucker is Editorial Director for the American Institute for Economic Research. He is the author of many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press and eight books in 5 languages, most recently The Market Loves You. He is also the editor of The Best of Mises. He speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture. Jeffrey is available for speaking and interviews via his email.