South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and other lockdown critics have been accused for months of ignoring the science on the novel coronavirus, but a recently released study by Stanford University researchers is providing an empirical boost to those who want to shut down the shutdowns.
A peer-reviewed article in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation found “no clear significant beneficial effect” from stay-at-home orders and business closures in eight nations, including the United States, versus voluntary measures adopted by South Korea and Sweden.
Published Jan. 5, the article offers what may be the strongest scientific challenge yet to more restrictive non-pharmaceutical interventions, or NPIs, prompting cheers from policymakers calling for the reopening of schools, restaurants, bars and gyms.
“Put simply, lockdowns DON’T work,” the Republican Ms. Noem tweeted with a link to the study. “See for yourself.”
Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, touted the research in a Friday blast, saying “the ‘experts’ and wannabe dictators, aka governors, were wrong, wrong, wrong and now they demand more bailouts.”
“This is a peer-reviewed study in a medical journal that says they studied 10 different countries, and what they found is that the mandatory lockdowns did no better than voluntary suggestions,” Mr. Paul, a physician, said on Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle.” “So I’ve been saying this for a long time. I don’t think we’ve changed the trajectory of the virus at all with any of the things we’re told to do, and they’re never going to let up on this.”
In the paper, the researchers — Eran Bendavid, Christopher Oh, Jay Bhattacharya and John Ioannidis — said that “we fail to find strong evidence supporting a role for more restrictive NPIs in the control of COVID in early 2020.”
The Stanford-affiliated team examined the impact of the more-restrictive mandates on case growth rates in regions of eight nations — England, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and the United States — against case growth in Sweden and South Korea, which encouraged but did not require measures such as social distancing and reducing travel.
“In summary, we fail to find strong evidence supporting a role for more restrictive NPIs in the control of COVID in early 2020,” the article concluded. “We do not question the role of all public health interventions, or of coordinated communications about the epidemic, but we fail to find an additional benefit of stay-at-home orders and business closures.”
The authors acknowledged the study’s limitations, including the difficulty of cross-country comparisons and the variables associated with confirmed case counts, and added that the “data cannot fully exclude the possibility of some benefits.”
“However, even if they exist, these benefits may not match the numerous harms of these aggressive measures,” they concluded. “More targeted public health interventions that more effectively reduce transmissions may be important for future epidemic control without the harms of highly restrictive measures.”
Critics pointed out that three of the authors were well-known shutdown skeptics well before the study was published.
Early on, Dr. Bendavid, Dr. Bhattacharya and Dr. Ioannidis, all Stanford professors of medicine, disputed the need for restrictive orders to fight the pandemic. In addition, Dr. Bhattacharya was a co-author of the anti-lockdown Great Barrington Declaration released in October.
“I continue to believe that blind, draconian lockdowns are not the best solution, and they become less and less viable as a reasonable solution when they are further prolonged for longer periods of time,” Dr. Ioannidis told Greek Reporter in a Dec. 28 article.
He said the study, which had been accepted at that time by the journal, found that “analyses for lockdowns in the first wave have shown that these draconian measures did not do much to curtail the number of cases.”
“Given the nature of the data, one cannot exclude small benefits of lockdowns over more targeted measures in some countries or locations,” Dr. Ioannidis said, “but then these benefits would be too small to match the harms of draconian lockdowns.”
‘Mental and spiritual hardship’
Other scientific papers have defended the efficacy of lockdowns. A modeling study by Imperial College London published in June estimated that 3.1 million deaths in Europe had been averted by more restrictive policies such as stay-at-home orders, according to MedicalXpress.
“Our results show that major non-pharmaceutical interventions, and lockdown in particular, have had a large effect on reducing transmission,” said the study published in Nature Research.
An October paper by Stanford and Harvard University economists concluded that county lockdowns, including stay-at-home orders and business closures, from early March to mid-April reduced transmission rates by 9% to 14%, according to the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
“If there were no lockdowns at all, we show in the paper that there would have been twice as many coronavirus cases by the end of April,” Stanford economist Matthew Gentzkow said. “But the magnitude of their effect is relatively modest compared to the social distancing that people are doing on their own, independently of policy.”
Enthusiasm for the lockdowns may be waning even among their erstwhile staunchest supporters, starting with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The Democrat did an about-face last week on his state’s tough pandemic restrictions in his State of the State address, saying that if New Yorkers wait for the vaccine to hit “critical mass” before reopening, “we are looking at months of shutdowns and the economic, mental and spiritual hardship they bring.”
“We need to begin to act now,” Mr. Cuomo said in his Jan. 12 speech. “If we don’t, dining will remain at levels too low for restaurants to survive, offices will remain empty, hurting the service businesses that depend on those office workers. Theaters and sports venues will sit empty. People will remain out of work.”
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday that she would speak to Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker about reopening restaurants and bars, suggesting that it would be easier to reduce “risky behaviors” in public venues versus private gatherings.
Shutdown skeptic Alex Berenson, author of “Unreported Truths About COVID-19 and Lockdowns,” pointed to California, which has been hit by a severe case surge despite having some of the nation’s most stringent shutdown orders.
“California’s under a massive lockdown, and all you need to do is realize that cases there grew exponentially in November and December, and [most of] the state went into lockdown in early December, and it didn’t make any difference,” Mr. Berenson said on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
Shutdowns may be more effective in places where they can be strictly enforced, such as in the People’s Republic of China, where 20 million people are now under lockdown orders, as per a Saturday report in the South China Morning Post.
“If you want to be an authoritarian government that locks down entire cities or region after a single case or a handful of cases, and imposes compulsory testing on millions of people, maybe you have a chance at stopping this virus that 998 or 999 out of 1,000 people survive,” Mr. Berenson said. “Otherwise, you have to live with this. Lockdowns don’t work.”