The truth about lockdowns

Getty Images

Joe Biden has argued that the White House wants to end the lockdowns too soon, causing thousands more coronavirus cases in states like Texas, Florida, and Arizona. Biden intimated that if he were president, he would have kept businesses closed longer to prevent a pandemic resurgence. This storyline fits the narrative on the left that lockdowns must continue, and that Republicans and free market proponents oppose them because they put greed and profits over saving lives and public health.

But there is one giant hole in this theory. We now have several months of data from all 50 states showing that severe lockdowns were associated with much higher, not lower, death rates. Anecdotally, this point should seem obvious. New York and New Jersey had by far the most number of deaths per 100,000 residents, and they also had the strictest stay home orders and business lockdown requirements. Their death rates thus far have been at least five times higher than the national average.

New York and New Jersey are densely populated states, and pandemics almost always ten to be urban problems, because of crowded city living. But Florida has Miami along with the ninth highest population density in America, yet its death rate is a tenth as high as New York and New Jersey. Texas has three of the ten biggest cities in the country, yet New Yorkers are 15 times more likely to die from coronavirus than Texans.

I have grouped the states into five categories from those with the strictest lockdown orders down to the states with minimal or no lockdowns. Then I looked at the average coronavirus death rate per 100,000 residents with these five groups. If lockdowns save lives, one would expect death rates to fall where stay home orders and business closures were more strictly enforced. Actually, the results show us precisely the opposite.

Citizens in the ten states with the most draconian restrictions on outdoor activities and businesses had much higher death rates from coronavirus. The death rates in these states were about four times higher than in the states which had minimal restrictions or no lockdowns at all. Amazingly, there is a linear relationship between lockdowns and deaths, but in the opposite direction that advocates of lockdowns would expect.

States in the Northeast did have the most exposure to coronavirus in the first place, but the data show the lockdowns in New York and New Jersey did not result in lower death rates compared with the rest of the country. One reason strict lockdowns did not reduce deaths is that, in nearly every case, they have been put into effect after the infection has spread. That is one of the most critical lessons from New York, where the subway system remained open for weeks as the coronavirus spread like wildfire.

The other reason that New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and others had devastatingly higher death rates is that they were almost criminally negligent in keeping seniors safe in nursing homes. States that protect seniors and people with underlying health conditions can reduce death rates by as much as 80 percent. Such measures would have saved far more lives than closing stores, salons, offices, and schools.

States with no lockdowns had very few deaths. These are states such as Utah, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, and the Dakotas. This all speaks to the idiocy of the call by the left for a national lockdown. It is true that Texas, Florida, Arizona, and the Carolinas are facing a troubling burst of fresh coronavirus cases, although mostly among younger residents who are much less likely to become very sick or die from this disease.

They now have the opportunity to learn from the blunders by blue state leaders such as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Meanwhile, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and other red state leaders have been selectively and wisely shutting down some higher risk businesses, such as bars and crowded restaurants. They are encouraging wearing masks in stores and other indoor public places. What they are not doing is decimating these local economies in the way that liberal leaders have been doing.

Not surprisingly, blue states have tragically soaring unemployment rates and are near depression levels of economic activity. Nine of the ten states with unemployment rates above 15 percent for the month of May were of course in blue states. These are Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Delaware, Washington, and Massachusetts.

What is the takeaway from all of this? Blue states with lockdowns blew up their economies and still suffered the highest death rates. They are good examples of how not to respond to a pandemic. Red states such as Texas, Florida, Arizona, and the Carolinas should go to school on them.

Stephen Moore is a founder of the Committee of Unleash Prosperity. He is also a current member of the White House economic recovery task force.

Tags Business Coronavirus Economics Government Lockdown Medicine Pandemic

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video