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A new round of lockdowns would be a terrible mistake

A new round of lockdowns would be a terrible mistake

With the number of reported cases of COVID-19 increasing, some states and localities are reversing phased openings of their economies and threatening harsh new restrictions. But a new round of lockdowns would be a terrible mistake.

New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoBipartisan governors call on Congress to pass coronavirus relief package Hundreds protest over NY bar owners arrested for coronavirus violations The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Dem leaders back smaller COVID-19 relief bill as pandemic escalates MORE announced Saturday that he is requiring travelers to New York from outside the tri-state area to show proof of a negative test taken within three days of arriving, to quarantine for three more days, then get a new COVID-19 test on the fourth before they are “free to go about their business.” Illinois just banned indoor dining and drinking in Chicago. San Francisco and other localities are blocking reopenings.

We know much more about managing and treating patients since the pandemic hit last winter, with dramatic reductions in death rates. At one New York hospital system where 30 percent of coronavirus patients died in March, the death rate had dropped to 3 percent by the end of June.

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We also now know much more about the secondary harm that lockdowns cause. And it is significant. The evidence is mounting that lockdowns present their own dangers to public health, with crippling and even deadly results.

School lockdowns have been shown to be especially harmful to children and virtually useless in stopping the spread of the virus. Two former FDA officials, Drs. Scott Gottlieb and Mark McClellan, recently wrote that schools can reopen with appropriate safeguards. “One large district of nearly 35,000 students and staff had fewer than 100 cases over a nine-week period, only eight secondary infections—and no cases of child-to-adult transmission.” That is consistent with findings elsewhere.

Leading infectious disease epidemiologists and public health scientists released a statement last month, the Great Barrington Declaration, to bring attention to their “grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 policies.” Instead of widespread lockdowns, “Adopting measures to protect the vulnerable should be the central aim of public health responses to COVID-19.” 

“Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health,” the declaration reads, including “lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating mental health.” Children, the poor and the vulnerable face the greatest harm.   

The statement, which recommends “Focused Protection,” has been harshly criticized for its discussion of “herd immunity.” But even detractors acknowledge the damaging effects of lockdowns, including missed cancer screenings, suicide, domestic abuse and untreated strokes.

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Let’s hope U.S. officials don’t follow France’s lead: The government has re-imposed harsh lockdowns, with bars, restaurants and most retail shops ordered to close for a month. The Daily Mail reports that Paris was gridlocked as tens of thousands fled the city, train stations were packed, violent protests broke out and store shelves were stripped ahead of the lockdown, which bans travel. “Draconian measures will see people needing documents to show their reasonable excuse for leaving home,” the Daily Mail reports.

While pharmaceutical companies race at warp speed to develop treatments and vaccines to contain the virus, evidence suggests that the U.S. should focus on managing the virus, concentrating resources on protecting those most at risk while allowing others to continue their lives and livelihoods.

Grace-Marie Turner is president of the Galen Institute, a non-profit research organization focusing on market-based health policy solutions. She can be reached at galen@galen.org. Follow her on Twitter @gracemarietweet.