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Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
The response to the COVID-19/Coronavirus/Wuhan Flu is unquestionably unprecedented. Never before have we shut down the majority of society worldwide – economic and societal concerns be damned, quarantined large groups of healthy people – sometimes indefinitely, cancelled weddings, funerals and religious services – then allowed mass protests and riots and implemented large-scale masking requirements. Never before, at least in free nations.
The impetus for these restrictions was to save lives. The goal was to ‘flatten the curve,’ so the hospital systems were not overwhelmed, but that morphed into “crush the virus.” This mimicked the Chinese response, as they allege it was successful. In reality, the Chinese government is known for its dishonesty so we cannot know the true effects lockdowns had in mainland China. New York Governor Cuomo, who presides over the state with the highest coronavirus deaths and one of the most draconian lockdowns succinctly put it this way; “And if everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.” Semantic grandstanding aside, did these measures save lives?
We know that there will be longstanding effects of this societal shutdown and universal masking. We do not and cannot understand the extent of such effects, but we already know that long term effects from lockdowns include increased suicides (which is of course death), missed learning for students – especially in poor and minority areas – and worsening of the already large outcome gap and increased anxiety in children.
Notably, the brunt of the effects seems to fall on children and young adults despite their being less likely to die or suffer severe effects from the virus, according to the CDC. The effects of lockdown on adults often center around the resulting economic hardships, increased drug use, greater incidence of spousal abuse, and deaths from not seeking typical medical treatments due to closures.
We also need to consider the national security implications of deliberately hurting our economy while China grows theirs after spreading this pandemic around the world.
The sociological effects of almost universal mask wearing have not really been studied but we can imagine that they include fewer people going to the gym (as it is hard to engage in vigorous exercise while wearing a mask), kids having a harder time with language acquisition and learning to understand emotions (they learn from lip-reading and seeing facial expressions) and our increased annoyance with on another, as we cannot see others smile. We should watch for and consider more tangible studies on sociological effects of mask wearing, as they clearly were not adequately considered prior to or even since implementing the mask mandates.
Taking all of these side effects into account, we ought to ask: Did these measures reduce COVID deaths? What would have happened if we treated COVID like a typical bad virus? This is purely speculative but worth considering. We may have closed community events when there was an outbreak, but for the most part, students would have gone to school and healthy adults would have gone to work.
We could have been informed of the COVID risks and comorbidities so that the focus would have been on accommodations for high risk individuals. The elderly and other high-risk groups would either stay at home or avoid high risk situations.
While virtual options arose for many day-to-day personal and work activities, most healthy people could have lived their lives normally, washing their hands often and keeping away from any coughers. Perhaps some jobs would give people the option to work from home and subways would not be as crowded. The virus would spread widely through children and younger adults in this scenario. Since they are lower-risk groups, the infection fatality rate likely would have been lower. if COVID-19 is indeed as infectious as it seems to be, herd immunity would likely have been achieved relatively quickly, after which we would have had a return to normal life.
This would basically be the model applied by Sweden, except that colleges and universities would not have been closed. People would die of COVID, as many have now and more will. But instead of the eldest populations being hit first (resulting from policies in several states of putting COVID patients into nursing homes), younger and healthier populations would have contracted the disease first, which likely would have resulted in lower infection fatality rates.
Lockdown policies have been a worldwide human experiment that failed miserably in many cases, with disastrous results, many of which we will not know the full extent of for years. There is a good chance that these policies worsened the infection fatality rate. The result of receiving a virus from China was our political leaders mimicking a Chinese-style lockdown. We should never do this again.
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