Now that we are resuming life as we know it, now that we have the benefit of hindsight and data that has been collected since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, many are asking if the U.S. government-mandated lockdown was worth it.
We are witnessing the profound effects of the lockdown, and they go well beyond the obvious. They encompass business closures and profit loss, mental and emotional breakdown, an increase in alcoholism and drug use, families seeking counseling and escaping increasing physical abuse, and even physical ramifications from unchecked ailments and inability or refusal to visit a doctor for preventative care and treatment.
Those who are studying the data frequently refer to Sweden, notorious for being the first country to lift restrictions. They are the one country with which we can compare ourselves to determine if the lockdown was indeed worth it – in other words, did it save enough lives to warrant the shutting down of the economy, schools, and life in general.
One way to determine at least part of the answer would be a government-produced cost-benefit analysis, something we have not seen from 2020. Many question why that is, especially given the unique nature of the year and the lessons that could be learned from it.
Philippe Lemoine, a doctoral candidate in philosophy at Cornell University and a fellow at the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “The coronavirus lockdowns constitute the most extensive attacks on individual freedom in the West since World War II. Yet not a single government has published a cost-benefit analysis to justify lockdown policies—something policy makers are often required to do while making far less consequential decisions. If my arguments are wrong and lockdown policies are cost-effective, a government document should be able to demonstrate that. No government has produced such a document, perhaps because officials know what it would show.”
Lemoine’s piece led to some follow up from other researchers with their own deductions. Prof. Leonard Soffer at the University of Chicago argued, “The overwhelming majority of the downturn would have taken place with or without government restrictions. Airlines, theaters, restaurants and many other businesses would have had a terrible 2020, and unemployment would have soared, no matter what restrictions governments imposed. It is only the incremental reduction in economic activity—a small fraction of the downturn—that can be considered a cost of government-imposed restrictions.”
But others agreed with Lemoine’s assertions. “A total lockdown isn’t achievable in a free society, and vaccine development takes time. The best approach would have been to isolate the elderly and infirm as has been done through history. This social experiment imposed on us has been an abject failure and must not be permitted to be repeated,” said R. Douglas Hume, Ph.D.
So what are the facts surrounding this issue? According to the World Bank, the U.S. had a 17.6% economic loss compared to Sweden’s 8.3% loss. The pandemic resulted in the permanent closure of approximately 200,000 U.S. businesses, above and beyond the normal level of business failures, according to economists with the Federal Reserve. The same study revealed that those hardest hit were barber shops, nail salons and other personal service providers with “more than 100,000 establishment closures beyond historically normal levels between March 2020 and February 2021.”
In addition to the economic costs to the country, we continue to see profound and lingering effects to men, women, and children of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds. The CDC has reported a 41% increase in mental health issues, including a rise in suicides, domestic violence, and health problems related to addiction and other mental health issues. Depression rates tripled amid Covid-19 lockdowns, according to a study cited by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.
We have yet to see the long-term ramifications of this uptick, but we do know that poor mental health can lead to a host of physical problems that reduce the quality life, shorten it, or even end it. The impact can be felt for generations.
One medical professional shared her personal story of ongoing struggle through Covid-19. “As a nurse practitioner while dual-hatted as an Air Force nurse, I was deployed to the epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak,” said Christine Mathews, a nurse practitioner for the VA Medical Center San Diego and a major in the Air Force Reserve. “I was assigned to New York City’s Lincoln Hospital, a place with the second most reported COVID-19 cases. The hardest battle was when I returned home. I was met with a dark shadow of despair surrounding me. Recurrent nightmares, thoughts of death and others dying were a nightly pattern. I felt lifeless and the strict lockdown just made it worse. I was plagued with futile treatment. Yearning to escape the relentless feeling of misery, I sought relief or peace at my place of worship. Unbeknown, churches were also closed due to the lockdown. Like many others, it became extremely difficult for me to deal with depression entirely on my own. Support systems are even more important when everything is falling apart in front of you during the Covid-19 pandemic. What is even more painful is losing a friend or a family from this virus, forcing some to live without that loved one by their side.”
And the country may see more loss as those with medical issues failed to seek treatment or see their doctor for routine check-ups. Cancer detection rates plummeted in 2020, suggesting we will see higher incidents of the disease in the future, with a greater chance of deaths that could have been prevented.
The one thing all Americans should expect from the government is an honest study of the effects of the lockdown so that if this ever happens again, we have a plan in place that will protect lives in the present without devastating them in the long-term.