It has been nearly eight months since the first coronavirus case was reported in the United States, and yet expert forecasts say all we have to look forward to is a fall and winter of suffering and death—and the nation’s most trusted doctor says we won’t be back to normal until the end of 2021.
“If you’re talking about getting back to a degree of normality which resembles where we were prior to COVID, it’s going to be well into 2021, maybe even towards the end of 2021,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in an interview with MSNBC’s "Andrea Mitchell Reports” last Friday.
By the end of this year, there will be nearly half a million dead from the novel coronavirus in the United States if social distancing mandates continue to ease and without universal masking, according to the most recent forecast by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, which accurately predicted the number of deaths by October. If that dark prophecy comes to be, nearly 3,000 people will be dying every single day from COVID, more than triple the current rate.
If another year and three months of thousands of people dying every day while schools and businesses open and close and reopen and close doesn’t sound appealing, then there is only one solution: a real lockdown for six weeks.
Let’s just get this over with.
Why a lockdown is a reasonable move
By now the evidence is clear: lockdowns work. We know that strict lockdowns worked in China, slowing down how fast the virus spreads. In Wuhan, the unprecedented 76 day lockdown, in which people were barred leaving the city or their homes except for once every three days for food, stopped new infections by two-thirds.
Now, the people of Wuhan, whose lives were brought for a couple of months to a halt, are going to the movies while we, in the US, are trapped in never ending Zoom meetings.
The evidence for lockdowns is so clear that even Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, agrees that we should have had a more strict lockdown back in March.
“I wish that when we went into lockdown, we looked like Italy,” Dr. Deborah Birx told reporters on August 17.
But while many countries implemented real lockdowns and kept their citizens out of hospital beds and early graves, many states took a “wait to see how bad this gets approach,” before implementing any sort of stay-at-home order.
The lack of any real lockdown plus a patchwork of state policies feels like a strategy designed by the COVID virus itself. Though 41 states and DC had some statewide order in place by April, five states held out (Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota) while four others only had restrictions in some cities (Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Wyoming).
Many of our politicians argued against lockdowns, pitting the economy against life itself, saying “there are more important things than living” (such as the economy) and gleefully promising that “freedom-loving Americans will rebel.”
But because these first lockdowns were half-assed, now the need for a second may be a death sentence for some small businesses, such as those in Florida.
What a lockdown would and wouldn't do
A strict lockdown done right doesn’t have to mean certain doom for businesses, though. Look at Italy, where grants, loan guarantees, tax reliefs, and other financial supports have helped their economy rebound better than predicted.
Without a real lockdown, the other tools that we have to fight coronavirus don’t work as well. Take contact tracing, the idea that we can track down people in contact with those infected and offer them testing and treatment.
The problem is that contact tracing works best when the number of cases are 1 per 100,000. With 250,265 cases in the last seven days, we have more than ten times the rate we need for effective contact tracing.
Once we lock down, we should take a lesson from Vò, Italy, a small town which, in the darkest days of Italy’s outbreak back in March, decided to test and retest everyone. That approach not only brought down the infection rate to 1.2% but it also caught more than 40% of people who were asymptomatic.
A lockdown isn't about doing nothing
A six-week nationwide lockdown that includes active case finding—going door to door and testing and retesting everyone using a $1 rapid antigen test that has already been created and can give results in fifteen minutes using a strip of paper like a pregnancy test, and quarantining people who are sick for two weeks—is how we get back to normal fastest.
We should have done a lockdown the right way the first time—that goes for everyone. Implementing the limited social distancing policies we had in the United States just a week earlier would have saved at least 36,000 people. If Wuhan had implemented their draconian policies three weeks earlier, there would have been only 5 percent of the total cases.
More than two hundred and twenty thousand are predicted to die of coronavirus by the end of the year in the United States. No one should die because we feel it is too late to do the right thing. It isn’t.
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