The Multi-Trillion Dollar Question: Do Lockdowns Work?
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…Request a Regenexx Appointment
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:
- Strict lockdowns weren’t all that effective in the first wave.
- The cost of lockdowns per life saved is immense.
- 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.
- The developed countries with the most resources fared more poorly than the countries with the least resources.
- 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”.