The United States just passed 10 million confirmed coronavirus cases. Dr. Anthony Fauci is predicting a dark winter. Presumptive President-elect Joe Biden says he has a plan but continues to focus on an unenforceable mask mandate and the potential for more lockdowns.
In Europe, where an aggressive lockdown strategy was once heralded by public health officials and media pundits, the COVID-19 winter has already arrived. Across the continent, countries have responded to the pandemic by imposing new nationwide or partial lockdowns. Ordinary Europeans, who are familiar with the strategy’s staggering costs, are staging protests. They know a second round of lockdowns would be medically, socially and economically devastating.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson shut down his country for at least four weeks to prevent what he calls a “medical and moral disaster” for Britain’s government-run health care system.
In Italy, the government in Rome forced a nationwide curfew along with travel restrictions in certain regions.
German citizens are told to accept “wavebreaker” lockdowns for the rest of November and rule out “lavish New Year’s Eve parties,” says Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Public health officials around the world are using infection models to justify draconian measures. The experience and counsel of front-line doctors and physicians who are treating patients during the pandemic barely register with these “experts.”
Lockdowns aren’t treatment. They’re not science. They’re reckless. The U.S. must resist taking cues from governments across the Atlantic on how to handle a second wave.
General lockdowns are both unnecessary and demonstrably ineffective. Research and experience tell us that COVID-19 spreads most efficiently indoors. In a study of more than 7,300 cases, international researchers found that just two infections could be linked to outdoor settings. Effective social distancing is relaxed or unobserved inside and the often drier, uncirculated air of indoor environments encourages viral transmission. In short, keeping people locked up in their homes exposes them to a greater level of risk over time.
The stated purpose of both the European and American lockdowns earlier this year was to prevent overwhelming local hospitals with critically ill patients. However, as the shutdown dragged on in places like New York and California, public health officials saw increases in heart disease and cancer rates, as well as functional decline directly attributable to fearful Americans putting off visits to their doctor or hospital.
Addiction and mental health crises have grown rapidly during the pandemic. Rates of suicide, depression and substance abuse are up. Children are expressing higher levels of loneliness, anxiety and neuroses. Following the European shutdown model again would only lead to more non-COVID excess deaths.
Furthermore, advances in treatment since the start of the pandemic have led, on average, to lower mortality rates and shorter hospitalizations, or at-home treatment for those who exhibit symptoms. One of these safe and effective treatments is FDA-approved hydroxychloroquine, a medication which concerned physicians have lobbied the federal government to make available over the counter in the U.S., just as it is in many countries around the world. There is no reason why the citizens of Poland, Iran, Indonesia, Turkey, Venezuela, the Philippines and others should have greater access to this inexpensive treatment than Americans.
Then there is the economic damage. The International Monetary Fund estimates the global cost of the pandemic at about $28 trillion. In the U.S., the number of long-term unemployed is rising, even as the economy gradually rebounds from its COVID-induced recession. There are about 7 million more people out of work now than prior to the pandemic, and the longer the laid off go without a job the harder it becomes for them to find one. The retail, hospitality and travel industries, along with thousands of businesses, have all been impacted, perhaps permanently, with economists predicting that the U.S. job market won’t recover until at least 2022.
Some limited initial lockdowns may have been a logical stopgap measure in the spring, when we were still learning about this highly infectious virus — not anymore.
America should lead with what it has learned. Whether it’s Donald Trump or Joe Biden, we should not follow the European lockdown model. The White House should take advice from those who have actually treated COVID-19 patients in clinical settings instead of trusting more failed models and made-for-media science. By choosing to follow the evidence and learning from experienced physicians, the U.S. can beat the pandemic, protect vulnerable groups and avoid subjecting Americans to Europe’s long, dark winter.
• Simone Gold, a board-certified emergency physician and a lawyer, is the founder of America’s Frontline Doctors (AFLDS). To learn more about America’s Frontline Doctors, visit americasfrontlinedoctors.com.