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Coronavirus lockdowns work

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As a Jew, I celebrate the High Holidays — a traditional time to attend synagogue and pray. This year our services are on Zoom because it is not safe to gather. It is a price we have to pay for the sake of community health. 

In the Jewish state of Israel, there is a second nationwide lockdown that will last through the holidays as its government struggles to contain another coronavirus outbreak.

Shuttering a country is hard and Americans are deeply divided over the issue as protests and lawsuits emerge around the nation.

In Pennsylvania, a federal judge ruled last week that restrictions ordered by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) to curb the spread of the coronavirus were unconstitutional.

That ruling stands in sharp contrast to Michigan, where the state appeals court ruled in August for Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, denying Republican lawmakers’ challenge of her emergency declarations.

In Wisconsin, the State Supreme Court sided with Republican lawmakers who had sued Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, striking down an extension of the state’s stay-at-home order.

We can all agree that commerce is critical to the economic life of America and there is already high unemployment. The unemployment rate tumbled to 8.4 percent last month as the U.S. economy continued to climb its way out of the pandemic downturn.

But if consumers are sick, they cannot shop. And there is data – if you believe in data – to show that a temporary closure of public spaces leads to a reduction in infections and death.

Look at New York. New York City began closing public schools the week of March 15 and imposed stay-at-home orders for everyone except essential workers the following week. Restrictions remained in place until June, when the city began gradually reopening while keeping indoor dining and other high-risk activities off-limits.

Now there is a forthcoming study from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Although not yet peer-reviewed, it concludes that public health interventions meant to limit contact between people, such as closing schools and telling nonessential workers to stay home, “likely contributed to the largest reduction in transmission in the population overall.”

The research was derived from mobility data from SafeGraph, a company that aggregates cellphone location information to simulate the spread of the coronavirus and estimate transmission. 

New York is now entering Phase 4 of reopening. 

Globally, there are also signs that lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, closed schools and canceled public events prevented millions of infections and deaths. In a study in the journal Nature researchers looked at the number of deaths from COVID-19 in 11 countries in Europe. They found that 3.1 million deaths in these countries were avoided because of pandemic control measures.  

Think about what more than 150 prominent U.S. medical experts, scientists, teachers, nurses and others have urged months ago in a letter recommending that political leaders shut down the country and start over to contain the surging coronavirus pandemic. 

“The best thing for the nation is not to reopen as quickly as possible, it’s to save as many lives as possible,” they wrote in the document, which was sent Thursday to the Trump administration, leading members of Congress and state governors. “Right now, we are on a path to lose more than 200,000 American lives by November 1.” Well, we are almost there, and it is not yet October.

As we enter October, with the start of a holiday season stretching through the end of 2020, the country has to come to terms with COVID-19 and its devastation. It is not too late to shut down, at least in areas with high levels of infection, to save thousands of lives. I pray we do it.

Tara D. Sonenshine is former U.S. under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs. 

Tags coronavirus coronavirus lockdowns COVID-19 pandemic Gretchen Whitmer Infectious diseases Pandemics Responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in April Responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in June Tom Wolf Tony Evers

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