Was the lockdown worth it? Now that we are six months into Covid-19, what does the data say about how we handled this pandemic? If you remember way back in April when Governor Polis issued the statewide “Stay at Home” mandate.
What was the goal of this mandate? It was to flatten the curve and not overwhelm the medical system with cases.
Experts said flattening the curve would not change the number of deaths in the United States. It would just slow the severe cases enough not to overwhelm hospitals. That means that the area under the curve is the same no matter what we did to lockdown.
In July, our Governor decided to issue a statewide mask mandate even though the CDC reported that in a meta-analysis, the evidence was minimal at best that masks prevent the spread of a virus.
The only way I could objectively look at the lockdown and masking mandates’ effectiveness is to compare a country that didn’t do strict lockdown or have any mask mandates at all. In this article and video, we are comparing the United States to Sweden.
Before we jump into the comparison, we need to look at a few ideas that have been a part of epidemiology for a long time. In the 1800s, there was a prominent epidemiologist named William Farr. He proved that epidemic infections follow a standard bell curve distribution. This means that infections will spike, and then after some lag time, deaths from that infection will spike at a lesser level. This idea is known as Farr’s law and is well established in the field of epidemiology.
Dr. Farr also stated that the only data that is a fact is deaths. All other data is just inference. This means that we can only guess how infectious the virus is and how it will affect an individual. Even in our modern times, we don’t test every individual every time we have an epidemic. It is hard to know how virulent a specific germ is when you don’t know how many people have caught the bug but did not show any symptoms.
Another doctor who spent years looking into epidemic influenza was R.E. Hope-Simpson. He wrote a paper talking about flu seasonality, like the current coronavirus. He hypothesized in his article, “The role of season in the epidemiology of influenza” that flu viruses affect more people during fall/winter and less during summer months.
Understanding Farr’s Law and the flu seasonality will help explain what we see when comparing the US to Sweden. In the graphs, you will see how it follows Farr’s Law and Hope-Simpson’s diagrams.
At the time of the interview I did with Dr. Scott Hourigan, the US had 621 deaths per 1 million people. That number is increasing weekly. Sweden, on the other hand, had 581 deaths per 1 million people. Sweden’s number has been relatively steady, only increasing by 1 or 2 every few weeks.
Here is what you need to know, the US did significant lockdowns and mask mandates, and some states are still observing those mandates. The US shut down schools, events, and a lot of businesses.
Sweden, on the other hand, recommended social distancing and voluntary reduction of the capacity of businesses. They only sent home the high school and college-aged students. All younger students stayed in school and are currently still attending school. They had no mask mandates, and most Swedes did not wear masks.
With the significant difference in approaches, you can see that the deaths are about the same. However, the US sees more deaths at this point than Sweden is when averaged to population size.
And if we look at this logically, the essential workers in the United States, such as grocery stores, hardware stores, and healthcare workers, did not see spikes in deaths. How can a grocery store worker who works indoors and is exposed to hundreds, if not thousands of people, when they work not see a spike in severe cases or deaths from this virus? It just doesn’t make sense.
We know the US and worldwide lockdowns had a significant impact on economies and mental health of the citizens subjected to the lockdowns. In the US, the CDC reported a 41% increase in mental health issues. There was a rise in suicides, domestic violence, and health problems related to addiction and other mental health issues.
As far as the economy goes, there is a great website called Clever Maps that shows how this pandemic affected the economy. According to the World Bank, the US had a 17.6% economic loss compared to Sweden’s 8.3% loss. The whole world’s economy was affected by this pandemic, but as you can see, Sweden to much less of a hit than the US who mandated lockdowns.
So was it worth doing the lockdowns in the US? Some will argue that it prevented a lot of deaths. But as we stated earlier, even the experts said lockdowns wouldn’t reduce the area under the curve, meaning deaths. It will only flatten the curve. There were and are a lot of economic and mental health issues directly related to the lockdown.
Sweden handled things differently and didn’t have as severe consequences when looking at their economy and mental health issues. Maybe allowing this virus to run its natural course would have been a better option in the US as well.
I guess only time will tell. This much we do know human-made solutions will never stop a virus from spreading. It will only lengthen the time of its spread and have other unintended consequences.