It’s Far Too Late to Think Lockdowns Can Make Covid-19 Go Away

It’s Far Too Late to Think Lockdowns Can Make Covid-19 Go Away by  for Mises

In the early days of the coronavirus crisis, the rationale given for lockdowns was that it was necessary to stay at home for “fifteen days to slow the spread.” The idea was that social distancing was necessary so that hospitals and other healthcare resources would not be overwhelmed.

However, by the summer of 2020, whether by design or not, it became common to hear media pundits, politicians, and even some scientists either imply or outright claim that social distancing could permanently flatten the curve or otherwise somehow cause a drastic reduction in overall covid-19 deaths.

For example, The Hill’s Reid Wilson claimed in July: “We know how to stop this virus, it requires social distancing, it requires wearing a mask, and constant hand sanitizers and staying home as much as possible.”

Yet this displays a woeful lack of understanding about the purpose and effectiveness of lockdowns. Lockdowns of the sort seen in April and May in this country do nothing at all to “stop this virus.” The lockdown strategy only works to completely stop a disease if certain conditions can be met. Specifically, the lockdown must be extremely strict,  and it must be maintained indefinitely—perhaps for years—until a safe and effective vaccine is widely available.

Clearly, the US is nowhere near enforcing a lockdown like this, nor does it appear that a vaccine—certainly not a well-tested one—is imminent. Thus, given that we know lockdowns themselves cause deaths through suicides, drug overdoses, and more, trying to impose a strict lockdown until that day comes would be a high-stakes gamble few will be willing or able to endure.

Lockdowns Only Provide “Temporary Suppression”

For some insightful observers, this has been clear from the very beginning. Writing back in April of this year, Joseph Ladapo, a professor of medicine at UCLA, wrote:

There is no guarantee of a vaccine within the next 18 months. We have taken measures to slow the virus, but these can’t stop it. The only thing that can stop the virus at this advanced stage of community transmission is a complete lockdown, which can happen in authoritarian countries like China, but not in the U.S.

Are shutdowns enough? No. Despite the efforts, there is still enough human contact to ensure the virus will spread. Take a look at the long list of “essential” services and exemptions on California’s Covid-19 website, for example. Shutdowns will cause the virus to spread more slowly, but it will spread nonetheless.

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