When Can We End Lockdowns for Covid 19?

When the Covid 19 pandemic hit the U.S. early last year, little was known about this new infection.

But as the highly contagious Covid 19 virus was spreading around the world, President Trump issued a proclamation on March 12, 2020 declaring a national emergency with “preventive and proactive measures to slow the spread of the virus and treat those affected” and state lockdowns began.

Regular healthcare became virtually suspended as states went to lockdown with rules to shelter in place except for essential errands or work. Schools and many businesses were closed. 

On March 18, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recommended that hospitals cancel all elective surgeries and nonessential medical, surgical and dental procedures to prepare for the expected deluge of patients with Covid 19 and the health system complied.

Then, although it received little media notice, a May 19, 2020 letter to President Trump signed by over 600 doctors detailed the physical and mental impact of the lockdown in the US due to Covid 19, calling it a “mass casualty incident” with “exponentially growing negative health consequences” to millions of non-COVID patients. 

The doctors’ letter stated that:

“Suicide hotline phone calls have increased 600%,” the letter said. Other silent casualties: “150,000 Americans per month who would have had new cancer detected through routine screening.”

“Patients fearful of visiting hospitals and doctors’ offices are dying because COVID-phobia is keeping them from seeking care. One patient died at home of a heart attack rather than go to an emergency room. The number of severe heart attacks being treated in nine U.S hospitals surveyed dropped by nearly 40% since March. Cardiologists are worried “a second wave of deaths” indirectly caused by the virus is likely.

“The millions of casualties of a continued shutdown will be hiding in plain sight, but they will be called alcoholism, homelessness, suicide, heart attack, stroke, or kidney failure. In youths it will be called financial instability, unemployment, despair, drug addiction, unplanned pregnancies, poverty, and abuse.

“It is impossible to overstate the short, medium, and long-term harm to people’s health with a continued shutdown,” the letter says. “Losing a job is one of life’s most stressful events, and the effect on a person’s health is not lessened because it also has happened to 30 million [now 38 million] other people. Keeping schools and universities closed is incalculably detrimental for children, teenagers, and young adults for decades to come.” (All emphasis added)

Then on October 4, 2020, the Great Barrington Declaration was written and released by three public health experts from Harvard, Stanford, and Oxford. The Declaration was eventually signed by thousands of doctors and experts from around the world. The Declaration encouraged governments to lift lockdown restrictions on young and healthy people while focusing protection measures on the elderly.

These experts surmised that this would allow COVID-19 to spread in a population where it is less likely to be deadly, encouraging widespread immunity that is not dependent on a vaccine.

The Declaration stated:

“Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health. The results (to name a few) include lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating mental health – leading to greater excess mortality in years to come, with the working class and younger members of society carrying the heaviest burden. Keeping students out of school is a grave injustice. “

The Declaration was swiftly met with intense criticism from other medical experts who called the plan “practically impossible and highly unethical”.

As the numbers of people with Covid 19 and who died from Covid 19 went up and down over the months, various U.S. states and counties ordered different degrees of lockdown and now many states seem to be guided more by politics than science when it comes to lockdowns.

HOPE ON THE HORIZON

We now have more people with Covid 19 surviving and leaving the hospital sooner due to a better understanding of what treatments work best in comparison to what was known when the pandemic started in the US.

And although seemingly impossible at first, new vaccines have been developed for Covid 19 and began being distributed in December 2021 due to Operation Warp Speed. Despite the controversy about some Covid 19 vaccines, it is hoped that the widespread use of vaccines may help the U.S. end the lockdowns.

In addition, the FDA (food and Drug Administration) approved the use of several rapid Covid 19 tests, some that can even be done at home. This can be a gamechanger with some experts saying that the massive distribution of rapid self-tests for use in homes, schools, offices, and other public places could replace harmful sweeping lockdowns with knowledge.

CONCLUSION

Lockdowns have caused enormous economic, physical, social and mental upheaval in the US.

When lockdowns are intermittent in intensity and duration in some states without clear scientific evidence that the lockdowns are working, it seems we need a reevaluation of their usefulness as we evaluate other measures to help end the Covid 19 pandemic.