The Multi-Trillion Dollar Question: Do Lockdowns Work?

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We’re now in the second wave of COVID-19 and all around us, there’s a dance between those who want to shut down again and those who vehemently oppose that solution. So what does the existing data say? After reviewing more than 20 papers on this topic, the data is clear, an April style lockdown for the second wave is misinformed public policy. Let’s dig in.

What the Heck is an NPI?

In the world of COVID-19 studies, you see the abbreviation “NPI” quite a bit, which stands for “Non-pharmaceutical Intervention”. This is all the stuff that happened in our spring lockdown like ” stay at home orders, closing businesses, social distancing, restricting travel, wearing masks, etc…

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Lockdown Data

I searched the Internet for a broad base of studies. I wanted articles that contained reviews or models that look back at how various places fared in the first wave relative to which NPIs they chose. The goal was to use real-world data from the first wave to predict what to do in the second. I wanted both medical and economist views that looked at both mortality (how many people died) and the real cost of lockdowns. Meaning, university epidemiologists live in a world that’s isolated from the real world costs to society, while economists are also great at population-based, statistical analysis and trained to look at the finances. I found 21 studies which I include in the table below. Under the “Paper” column, I include where the study was published (or whether it has yet to be published) and a link to the research. Many of these studies are on pre-print servers, which is a “thing” now in COVID world. Under “Lockdown Effective?” I use a simple thumbs up or down icon to represent whether the authors concluded that what was done for the first wave was effective, plus/minus, or ineffective. Under “Notes” I include some study details.

Click on the image to get to the PDF which has live links to the source material. If any reader can find other research meeting these criteria that I missed, I’ll be happy to update the table (leave that new study link in the comments below):

Looking at the studies above, a couple of things emerge:

  1. Strict lockdowns weren’t all that effective in the first wave.
  2. The cost of lockdowns per life saved is immense.
  3. There is significant doubt that the timing of the lockdowns in the first wave versus the drop in mortality we experienced by late spring are correlated. Meaning, there was serious doubt in some studies that the lockdowns did anything.
  4. The developed countries with the most resources fared more poorly than the countries with the least resources.
  5. Keeping some NPIs in place likely makes sense, but erring towards the less restrictive interventions makes the most sense.

This Data vs. What’s Happening

Given that there are very few studies that show that shutting down society in the first COVID-19 wave was effective, any public health officials who are just repeating what they did back in April are seriously misinformed. Meaning, that at the end of the day, erring on the side of avoiding societal shutdowns is what the current data support.

The upshot? I sure hope public health officials take the time to read these papers as I did over these past few days. They are not supportive of “Lockdown 2.0”.

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11 thoughts on “The Multi-Trillion Dollar Question: Do Lockdowns Work?

  1. Keri Gear

    Do you fear what some of the folks on the other side of the argument on these medical boards will do for speaking out like you are doing? I think you are brave speaking up and just trying to show what is out there.

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      No, we’re taught as physicians to always look at the best available evidence, which is what I do with these blogs.

  2. Alfred Wekelo

    Thank you for sharing the facts I hope a lot of government leaders read this so we can avoid the pain of another shutdown.

  3. Donald Gibson

    Dr. Centeno, I really appreciate your data-based, common-sense approach to the Covid issue. We rarely hear about data from clinical studies from our elected officials. In my opinion, Covid should be called a panicdemic. Yes, it’s serious. Yes, tragically, it kills people. Mostly those over the age of 80, and the majority of those had 3 or more co-morbidities. Absolutely, those at highest risk need to be protected. Absolutely not, our democratic republic paradigm does not need to be “reset.” Locking people down results in an increase in bankruptcy, mental health issues, poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse, and suicides….to name a few. In light of the published data, including the high percentage of false positives that over-cycling the test itself generates, one has to ask the question: is the so-called cure worse than the disease?

  4. John Cockayne

    This information is mainly so opposite of the mask wearing impact reported in the detailed long article at the following URL;

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      Yeah, that’s the crazy Jena study described here: It’s basically a joke because Jena closed itself off from the rest of Germany and Europe early in the pandemic, so mask-wearing was only one of many variables that make Jen vastly different.

  5. brian j mccluskey

    Chris i agree 100% FB is censoring you for sure. the c-19 is a game that started late last year . it did not startt in china . its started out west in the usa adn here we are being controlled. i hope it doesn’t surprise you. Much More to come
    FB is a POS gossip column and yes we are in 1984 and will get worse.
    Big Brother is watching you . i believe in your work and wish you well.

  6. Dr. Gear

    Chris I believe if you present this information in a differnt manner and format you will not see as much push back and potential fallout. It is a shame these web police can really ruin your reputation and good name in a matter of days.

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      That’s something that could be addressed during a telemedicine or in-office local evaluation. At the top of the page is a link for “Find a Provider”.

  7. Lorie

    Thanks for parsing out these studies!
    Also of note is the fact that the lockdowns have immiserated millions, increasing poverty and food insecurity all over the world (see for ex:, and I don’t see how that somehow slips under the radar for lockdown proponents.

  8. bob swenk

    Very appropriate data analysis and questions! You are helping raise peoples awareness in light of the censorship! Here is a good listing of “lockdown/mask” studies also:

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