Coronavirus lockdown benefits remain dubious as costs continue to mount


Roughly four in ten Americans report that they experienced reduced access to medical care because of COVID-19, according to a new survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report is just the latest evidence that, from the standpoint of public health, the lockdowns that public officials have put in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic have done more harm than good.

Nearly one-third of Americans with at least one chronic condition have had a harder time getting care during the pandemic, per the CDC’s new survey. More than 44 percent of people with diabetes and 37 percent of asthma sufferers reported the same.

These are patients for whom access to routine care is absolutely essential, if they’re to adeptly manage their conditions. They’re also at increased risk of complications from COVID-19.
Any government response to the pandemic ought to have made it easier to keep their chronic conditions under control and thus better equipped to fight the virus — not more vulnerable, as the lockdowns did.

The damage wrought by the draconian response to the pandemic doesn’t end there. The lockdowns have exerted a potentially life-threatening toll on the mental health of many Americans. A CDC report from last month found that one-quarter of adults ages 18 to 24 contemplated suicide in the previous month.

And a study published last week, reveals that depression rates have tripled since the beginning of the pandemic. Nearly one-quarter of the country is now experiencing symptoms of depression.

This shouldn’t be surprising, given that the lockdowns have left millions of Americans out of work and been especially disruptive to the lives and career prospects of young people.

The rising prevalence of mental health problems has coincided with an astounding increase in drug overdoses across the country.

According to data from the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program, a project of the University of Baltimore Center for Drug Policy and Enforcement, overdoses have risen by nearly 18 percent since March, when many shelter-in-place orders first took effect.

The worst health consequences of the lockdowns may not be apparent for some time. Consider the effect they’ve had on access to preventative medical care, like cancer screenings.

A recent study in the journal Future Oncology found that the rate of cancer screenings dropped 90 percent in April compared to February, as patients avoided procedures like mammograms, CT scans, and colonoscopies.

A separate study found that, between March and April, the average number of weekly diagnoses for six common forms of cancer fell by more than 46 percent compared to the previous two months.

Early detection is critical to treating most cancers. So the fall-off in testing and diagnoses is almost certain to have a measurably negative impact on public health in the months and years to come.

Some might argue that the lockdowns have saved more lives than they’ve cost by stemming the spread of the virus. But that assertion is growing more and more suspect.

A new study by the analytics firm TrendMacro looked at a range of data regarding infection rates and lockdown intensity. It found that stay-at-home orders didn’t contain the virus. Moreover, the analysis showed that reopening the economy didn’t lead to another wave of infections.

That study is hardly the last word on the issue. But it illustrates just how little evidence there is to justify stringent lockdowns.

Public officials have been quick to embrace stay-at-home orders, even in the absence of evidence that they work.

All too often, we don’t see the costs of these decisions until it’s too late — a cancer diagnosis missed, a livelihood lost, a downward mental health spiral that could’ve been avoided.

Sally C. Pipes is president, CEO, and Thomas W. Smith Fellow in Health Care Policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is False Premise, False Promise: The Disastrous Reality of Medicare for All, Encounter Books, January 2020. Follow her on Twitter @sallypipes.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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