With more than 700,000 reported Covid-19 deaths in the United States, it is now evident that lockdown strategies failed to protect older high-risk Americans. Naively believing that shutting down society would protect everyone, government officials failed to implement focused protection measures for those at the highest risk.
While anyone can get infected, there is more than a thousand-fold difference in the risk of death between the old and the young. The failure to exploit this fact about the virus led to the most significant public health fiasco in history.
All the ineffective Covid restrictions have generated enormous collateral public health damage. The harm includes lower childhood vaccination rates, worse cardiovascular disease outcomes, missed cancer screenings, and deteriorating mental health, to name a few. Depriving children of in-person teaching has hurt not only their education but also their physical health, mental health, and social development.
The blame game for this fiasco is now in full swing. With chutzpah, some lockdown proponents are blaming and slandering those who opposed lockdowns and warned about the unintended consequences. Three popular types of slander are that lockdown critics (i) want people to get infected, (ii) did not take the pandemic seriously, and (iii) are anti-vaccine. All three are wrong, showing a profound lack of public health understanding.
During his short four-month stint at the White House, Dr. Scott Atlas worked to better protect older Americans while urging the return of children to school. While he succeeded in implementing more frequent Covid testing in nursing homes, he was unable to turn the White House Covid Task Force away from the ineffective but damaging lockdowns to traditional and more effective measures to protect the vulnerable.
Seeking to evade blame during congressional hearings, Dr. Deborah Birx, the former task force coordinator, is now accusing Atlas for the consequences of the lockdown policies that she urged and implemented during her one-year tenure, falsely claiming that he wanted to “let the infection spread widely without mitigation.”
Expecting a winter Covid resurgence, in October 2020, I authored the Great Barrington Declaration with Dr. Sunetra Gupta of Oxford University and Dr. Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford University. We hoped to avoid a repeat of the spring lockdown disaster, so we called for focused protection of the old, with many specific suggestions.
In a refreshingly honest recent episode of The Hill’s “Rising,” Kim Iversen addressed the enormous collateral public health damage from lockdowns. She lauded the prescience of the Great Barrington Declaration and its 860,000-plus signers, and lamented that corporate media had mischaracterized and villainized rather than engaged with us.
The Intercept’s Ryan Grim, her co-host, quickly proved her point, falsely claiming that “their extremism was based on a faulty understanding of the pandemic … one of the three authors took to the Wall Street Journal, famously, and said … the better estimate of the fatalities that we are going to see from Covid are around 20 to 40,000.”
This is a mischaracterization. The point of Bhattacharya’s March 2020 op-ed was that the prevailing predictions that Covid would kill many millions in the United States “could plausibly be orders of magnitude too high,” since we did not know how many had been infected at the time, and that uncertainty “could make the difference between an epidemic that kills 20,000 and one that kills two million.”
To bring clarity, the op-ed called for antibody prevalence studies; studies that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was not conducting, and Bhattacharya subsequently performed. Honest scientists point out not only what is known but also what is not known.
An article in the British Medical Journal falsely claimed that Bhattacharya, Gupta, and I have “expressed opposition to mass vaccination.” The opposite is true. I was even removed from a CDC working group for being too pro-vaccine, after arguing against the CDC pause on the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. By publishing erroneous claims that there are prominent professors at Harvard, Stanford, and Oxford who are against the Covid vaccines, the British Medical Journal gave the anti-vaccine movement a boost.
The central fallacies in pro-lockdown thinking are that more restrictions automatically lead to fewer Covid deaths, that focused protection is impossible, and that collateral lockdown damage is insignificant. To his credit, Grim acknowledged that school closures were a disastrous mistake. He even moved out of Washington, DC so his own children could go to school.
While the professional Zoom class of administrators, managers, journalists, scientists, and other professionals worked from home and arranged new schools, private schools, tutors, or home schooling for their children, working-class children and families bore the brunt of both the pandemic and the lockdowns. To paraphrase Grim, today it may be “extreme” to defend children and essential workers, but it should not be.
The Covid restrictions have affected everyone, and they are the biggest assault on the working class since segregation and the Vietnam War. The damage done cannot be undone. We should hope though, that in the future, lockdown proponents will at least have the decency not to slander or blame others for the catastrophic lockdown policies they advocated.