Hundreds of health professionals recently urged government leaders to “hit the reset button” on Covid-19 by shutting the country down a second time.
These blanket lockdowns pose a greater health risk to most people than the virus itself.
Many Americans are so scared of Covid-19 they’ve stopped seeking medical care altogether. In the early months of the pandemic, total health care utilization decreased over 65%.
New diagnoses for six types of cancer fell from an average of 4,310 per week in January and February to 2,310 per week in March and April – a decrease of 46%.
People didn’t stop developing tumors. They just weren’t undergoing testing. During the lockdowns’ peak, colon-cancer screenings decreased 86%, while breast and cervical cancer screenings dropped 94%.
Delaying a cancer diagnosis for just a month can considerably reduce patients’ chances of survival. Ned Sharpless, director of the National Cancer Institute, conservatively estimates that delayed screenings will result in 10,000 additional cancer deaths over the next decade.
Or consider how lockdowns wreak havoc on Americans’ mental health. In March, texts to a national emotional distress hotline spiked nearly 900% compared to the same month last year. The pandemic may cause an additional 154,000 “deaths of despair” – mostly suicides and overdoses – over the coming decade, according to a report from Well Being Trust.
Covid-19 is a serious disease, but it’s not an equal-opportunity killer. People 75 and older make up 58% of all Covid-19 deaths in the United States, according to provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People 54 and younger – even those with preexisting conditions – account for 8% of all deaths.
Mercifully, children are at particularly low risk. So far this year, more children 14 and younger have died from the flu than Covid-19. Every death is a tragedy. But we don’t shutter schools each flu season.
Politicians understandably panicked earlier this year, when the coronavirus was truly novel. Now that we understand the virus much better, there’s no excuse for blanket lockdowns.
A smarter, more targeted approach would focus on keeping nursing home residents and other immunocompromised people safe. Most Americans can afford to go about their normal lives as long as they take sensible precautions.
One-size-fits-all lockdowns may cause more deaths than they prevent. We can’t allow the cure to be worse than the disease.
Sally C. Pipes is president, CEO, and the Thomas W. Smith fellow in health care policy at the Pacific Research Institute.