Fueled by democrat occupancy of the White House, and increased distribution of COVID-19 vaccines many of those states which had the strictest lockdown orders have begun to lift them while we see cases of the virus steadily decline. Until we reach herd immunity it’s premature to say that we’ve moved past the virus, but as cases continue to fall it’s worth a look back over the past year at those policies which were implemented in the name of fighting this virus, and their efficacy.
There have already been many articles published on whether lockdowns and masking mandates are effective. These articles range from wholly unqualified journalists speaking on medical issues to actual medical doctors offering their insights. Despite certain outlets trying to shape the narrative by suppressing some of these articles, they are still out there and can be found if so desired. So why the need for another commentary on this issue? Well, in many of the articles already published, one facet of them has repeatedly stood out as being misleading, and that is the statistical analysis.
In reviewing the efficacy of government mandated actions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, it’s important first of all to use a meaningful measurement statistic. Death rate will not tell us whether lockdowns and masking have inhibited the spread through one population versus another. This is because death rates are highly affected by the age, and underlying health condition of the affected population. The virus could spread at the same rate through two populations of the same size and have vastly different outcomes in death count if one of those populations was older, or generally less healthy than the other.
Additionally, each state within the U.S. has wildly varying populations. The difference between the U.S. state with the largest and smallest populations, respectively, is 38,790,000 people, which is more than the population of Poland, and nearly four times the population of Sweden. Obviously then, comparing absolute case counts between U.S. states would be a disingenuous comparison. One aspect of this virus which has never been debated is that it is highly contagious, and so it would be an absolute shock if those states with the highest populations didn’t have higher case counts than those states with lower populations just by virtue of having a larger pool of possibly infected individuals. Yet, many articles run with these absolute case counts, pointing to them as proof that policies in the most populous states have been ineffective.
To ensure that this review does not commit the same statistical fallacies as what has already been reported, the metric used in determining effectiveness of COVID containment policies will be the population percentage infected. This is obviously still not a perfect statistical measure, as differences in testing rates, among other things, could influence these results; but no statistical measure is perfect, and at this point in time this is the best we have. This metric will then be compared through regression analysis to a state lockdown score provided by the organization Multistate, as well as to the population density of each state to determine if there is a statistically significant correlation between these factors.
So have these lockdowns been effective at curbing the spread of COVID-19? The answer is… probably. There is a statistically significant correlation between normalized case counts, and how open a state has been. When this data is controlled for population density in each of the states, we surprisingly learn, that population density is not a statistically significant factor contributing to the spread of COVID-19.
It would be very easy to end the analysis here, and proclaim that by rigidly adhering to individualistic principles libertarians are responsible for the death of grandmas and grandpas all over the U.S. That would however, be an overly simplistic, and incomplete assessment of the situation. First off, readers must be reminded that correlation does not equal causation. In other words, proving that there is a trend between states being locked down and the spread of COVID, is not conclusive proof that the lockdowns were the cause as to why COVID did not spread faster in these places. Statistics is a complex form of mathematics precisely because there are so many ways in which it can be manipulated to convey the desired message by massaging out crucial pieces of information, or omitting their consideration in error.
A Holistic Review
Even if we assume that the level of lockdown was the primary cause influencing the rate of COVID spread, it should be asked, what was the cost of these lockdowns?
Though official statistics have not yet been published, preliminary estimates show that suicide rates have spiked sharply during the pandemic, with some sources suggesting as much as a 25% increase from the previous year. How have suicide rates correlated with the openness of states during the pandemic?
Current estimates put permanent business closures this year at 60%; how do these closures, job losses, and furloughs correlate to states’ openness during the pandemic, and how have the people affected by these economic hardships fared since being impacted?
The vast majority of COVID deaths have occurred among elderly individuals, or those with underlying health conditions; how many of those individuals would have died in 2020 even without COVID?
There are many unanswered questions about the unintended consequences of pandemic lockdowns, questions which we won’t be able to answer reliably for several years. The ease with which some politicians are willing to brush aside these considerations is troubling.
Of course, we could avoid the need to answer these questions by taking the moral stance that we are all individuals, who are supposed to have freedom over our own movements and actions, and as a result must take in information, assess it, and make those decisions that we feel are right for ourselves. It can only be argued that this strategy presents more risk than the lockdowns if the past year’s events are viewed through a very narrow lens, one which only looks at a single cause of death, and no other societal impacts, or deaths from other causes. Furthermore, no adult with fully functioning mental capacity, and eyes and ears who has been alive for the last year could possibly claim to have not been provided pertinent information regarding the risks and dangers of COVID.
Politicians are not some sort of omniscient beings. Many of them are less educated than many members of the general public, and, especially pertinent to this pandemic very few of them are medical doctors. They have almost no stake in whether these lockdowns were effective or not. They got to stay home during the pandemic and continue collecting a paycheck, a paycheck which is funded by the American public. So while many Americans lost their own jobs and businesses, they were somehow expected to continue paying congress’ paychecks, fund Amtrak, and provide more than $3 billion to foreign countries, among the many other wasteful spending items tacked on amongst the trillions of dollars in COVID relief bills.
When a holistic viewpoint is taken of the COVID pandemic, it becomes very clear that there are no easy answers, and it is precisely in situations such as this that we must insist on limiting governmental authorities to their constitutional powers.