To Save the Economy, Save People First: Targeted Measures and Subsidies for Cost Effective COVID-19 Abatement

Yves here. The situation with the site is getting worse. Jerri and Lambert are finding it massively difficult to post, to the degree that Jerri was unable to finish her planned original posts due to the time it took for her to complete Links and load cross posts. So apologies for the shortfall of original material. However, the caliber of this INET post will hopefully be an offset. It gives a detailed set of “fix the economy” priorities that it explains are critical. It explains why making combatting Covid the top priority saves lives and the economy, while focusing on saving the economy does neither. It also reviews what has worked overseas, namely, gasp, lockdowns and mandatory masks with real enforcement thereafter, and providing the financial firepower to fund those effort, including the impact on workers.

Note that this program does not treat vaccination as an important measure, implicitly acknowledging how long it would take to distribute them, even assuming high levels of citizen compliance. However, it recommends very frequent testing of high transmission populations, such as students in school, teachers, staff, and their families.

And before you argue about the cost, which clearly would be high, the alternative is ruin, as Taleb would put it.

Again apologies. The worst is that Lambert is now experiencing the serious and weird problems Jerri was having….simply after clearing his browser cache. We upgraded WordPress recently but it behaved well for a week plus (and we had tested it in our backstage). Lambert hypothesizes that there’s some sort of pernicious interaction between the Cloudflare and WordPress.

By Phillip Alvelda, CEO & Chairman, Brainworks Foundry, Inc., Thomas Ferguson, Director of Research and Professor Emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Boston, and John C. Mallery CTO, WFA Group LLC. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website

Less than two weeks ago, COVID-19 was spreading in the United States at a rate of 100,000 new cases per day. Now the rate is approaching 180,000 per day and still rising. As new cases have soared, a somber chorus of political leaders, media editorial outlets, and business figures have gravely proclaimed that “lockdowns don’t work” or that “the economic and public health damage from a lockdown are as bad or worse than that inflicted by the virus they are meant to stave off.” [1-8] A careful analysis of data comparing differing national responses leads to clear delineation of what works, and what does not. This paper demonstrates not only that lockdowns do work but indicates what other measures can slow and even suppress the coronavirus, and why. Our study closes with specific recommendations that promise to work better than blanket lockdowns and what nations, states, and even citizens should do to effectively address the pandemic right now.

Lockdowns Work

With over ten months of data from dozens of coronavirus hotspots around the world, statements proclaiming the futility of lockdowns are now provably false. Strict lockdowns do work, and they work swiftly, within 4-6 weeks. They worked not only to suppress, but to virtually eliminate the virus in Australia, New Zealand, and Iceland, as well as in China, Korea, and Taiwan. Figure 1 below tells the story in one picture of new COVID-19 case counts by country.

Figure 1. New COVID-19 case count by country normalized by population (7-Day moving average). The time dimension on the X-axis counts backward from left to right along the horizontal axis, starting in February 2020 and ending at November 14, 2020 on the right margin. The vertical axis shows a seven-day moving average of new COVID-19 cases per day. The countries that have effectively managed and suppressed the spread of the Coronavirus all cluster in the bottom right corner of the chart. These include China, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, and Iceland.coronavirus

Recommendation #1: Save the Economy by Saving Lives First

Limiting economic damage caused by the pandemic starts and ends with controlling the spread of the virus. Dozens of experiments conducted in different countries across the world definitively show that no country can prevent the economic damage without first addressing the pandemic that causes it. The countries that swiftly focused first on pandemic abatement measures are now reopening in stages and growing their economies. Most of the countries that prioritized bolstering their economies and resisted, limited, or prematurely curtailed interventions to control the pandemic are now facing runaway rates of infection and imminent state and national lockdowns.

If you still believe that a nation can somehow stimulate and recover the economy without first addressing the pandemic — in other words, trade lives lost to COVID-19 for livelihoods that would otherwise be lost through lockdowns — consider the following chart in Figure 2. It plots the number of coronavirus deaths, a measure of the regional severity of the pandemic, versus the total economic loss, including both the decline in GDP (see end notes on data from EuroStat 11 and OECD 12 GDP Data) and the cost of economic stimulus programs drawn from national budgets and assumed debt (as summarized in this IMF report “Fiscal Policies Database in Response to COVID-19”) by country as of the end of Q2 2020. The chart is effectively a rough representation of how well each country has protected its citizens versus the total cost of doing so.

Figure 2. Economic Loss versus the Loss of Lives to COVID-19. This chart draws on IMF economic and stimulus measures against Johns Hopkins COVID-19 data to plot each country’s coronavirus deaths against the total economic loss each suffered (including both the decline in GDP and total spending on economic stimulus programs along with debts and liabilities they took on) as of the end of Q2 2020. The economic losses are shown on the horizontal X-Axis; countries doing better are located towards the right with less loss. The Y-Axis plots the number of deaths per million people, a normalized measure of how bad the pandemic is that controls for different country populations. Countries with fewer deaths, who better protected their citizenry are at the top of the graph.

Once one takes the critical analytical step of estimating all the costs of the pandemic response, including those deferred for future payment, different national response strategies become easily distinguishable. Countries that swiftly focused on coronavirus suppression and elimination, effectively choosing to temporarily sacrifice their economies to limit the coronavirus spread and save lives, show along the top of the chart, highlighted by the green line. Countries that chose to limit pandemic response in favor of economic stimulus in the name of saving their economies at the expense of their citizen’s lives are grouped along the diagonal red line. Those that delayed response or waffled between strategies lie in the middle, like the U.K., suffering the worst of both extremes.

Figure 2 above highlights the clear and consistent limit to how strong any nation’s economy can be that is proportional to the local severity of the pandemic: The worse the pandemic was allowed to get, the more the costs of dealing with it piled up, which directly impacted the overall costs to the economy. No amount of spending to bolster the economy with fiscal or monetary stimulus changed this near-straight line relationship. That realization alone should deter national and state leaders from pursuing primarily economic responses to COVID-19. But an even more damning realization emerges when you consider how the graph changes over time.

Those countries, like the United States, that invested in economic stimulus while allowing the virus to continue proliferating continue to suffer from unabated community transmission, deepening the economic damage quarter after quarter as the virus spreads. Those unhappy economy-over-lives countries in Figure 2 are trapped in a calamitous feedback loop of having to invest more and more to stay on that diagonal limit as the virus grows and their GDP continues to decline. They move down and to the left along the red line, requiring ever-increasing economic stimulus, and allowing more and more people to die of the virus until their medical systems are unable to keep up. At that point, when they are suffering both economic and humanitarian disaster, extreme lockdowns are unavoidable. Take the U.S. case, for example. The US started at the upper right hand corner of the graph, and when early action was somewhat delayed in the first surge in the Northeast, the country traveled downward along the red line until the first national lockdown, after which, once the virus abated from the initial hotspots, it enjoyed a brief economic recovery. But as the virus resurged in the south and west, and now sweeps across the nation with each new resurgence worse than that before, the U.S. faces ongoing self-reinforcing growth in both viral and economic damage.

On the other hand, China, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, and Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand, which all invested primarily in swift coronavirus suppression have effectively eliminated the virus and are seeing their economies begin to grow again. They are also in a positive feedback loop — in this case, a good one — where the reopening economies grow themselves without additional stimulus and suffer diminishing damage from the virus as cases dwindle. Their natural self-sustaining trend in Figure 2 is travel to the right along the green line towards economic recovery. In the process they saved hundreds of thousands of lives; a clear win-win in both economic and humanitarian terms.

A final useful thought experiment that emerges from the above chart is to use it to evaluate the effectiveness, or the return on investment, of direct investment in pandemic response versus investment in economic stimulus.

The single biggest and most consistent difference between the successful Asian countries and those Western countries that continue to struggle with COVID-19, is universal adoption of high-quality mask wearing and strict adherence to social distancing measures passed, and enforced by,national governments. These governments correctly calculated in advance that the costs of producing and distributing masks for everyone, imposing social distancing, and supporting the poor through short but effective lockdowns would be dwarfed by the longer term economic damage of continuing viral surges and the ongoing stimulus required as long as the virus rages unaddressed.

One need look no further than the U.S. plan to distribute 5 quality masks to every person in the country through the postal service, a plan that was shut down by the Trump administration. (See: “Whitehouse Nixed Plan to Send Facemasks to Every Household In US”) The cost of such a program would have been in the range of $1 billion, relative to the economic stimulus passed at that time in Q2 congruent with the chart data, of $1.7 trillion, a figure which has since grown to over $3 trillion plus ongoing GDP losses. The relative effectiveness of the contrasting measures is likely in the range of 1,000-to-1 in favor of pandemic abatement over economic stimulus. In other words, a billion dollars spent on masks and social distancing could have had a similar economic effect as a trillion-dollar economic stimulus, and it could have saved as many as 200,000 American lives.

The uncomfortable reality is that the pandemic doesn’t respond to political ideology, especially when it flies in the face of nature and reality. Those who resist lockdowns and containment measures early in the wave of infections are not, in fact, avoiding lockdowns. What they are really doing is guaranteeing that the inescapable lockdown will happen regardless, and will have to be more stringent, and for much longer, because they refused more moderate action earlier. (And it will cost more and more, all along the way until the virus is suppressed.) This conclusion follows from the way coronavirus infections ramp up exponentially and taper off much more slowly. All the economy-first boosters are really doing is trading off a few weeks of “freedom” up front for months of extra lockdown on the back-end once the hospitals are overwhelmed and allowing tens of thousands of people to die needlessly in the process.

Doubters should compare the recent trajectories of Belgium and Germany. In the face of the virus resurgence, they both instituted new abatement measures at the same time. But Belgium waited until the prevalence was 10x higher than Germany’s threshold to act. The economic difference? Belgium was forced to completely close the economy, while Germany took much milder measures to decrease maximum meeting sizes and adjust the restaurant capacity limits, but otherwise kept the economy open for business. This same dynamic is playing out across different US states, with California and New York following the faster-acting but milder-measure German approach, and the Dakotas and other Midwestern states following the Belgian strategy through cyclical coronavirus resurgence, overwhelmed hospitals, and ongoing economic ruin. These examples make it obvious that hard lockdowns and their ruinous economic costs are an inevitable result of policy and governance failures to address the pandemic directly and earlier, when milder and less costly solutions could have saved many lives and expenses.

Figure 3. The number of new daily confirmed COVID-19 cases normalized by population for slow actors hoping to stave off lockdowns (Belgium and North Dakota) and swift actors taking milder measures earlier to forestall the need for stricter lockdowns later. The chart clearly shows North Dakota following the Belgian curve, and California tracking to follow the German trajectory.

COVID-19 in the US Now

After ten months of federal inaction and misdirection that has downplayed the virus, encouraged citizens and state leaders to delay any real statewide measures, and even promoted numerous super-spreader events, the virus is out of control across more than half of the states in the US. Our international allies justifiably look on this as a humanitarian disaster that was completely avoidable. Over 200,000 US citizens have died needlessly. We are back to one 9/11 worth of tragic and unnecessary deaths every two days. Doctors Without Borders is sending teams to the overwhelmed US hospital system to help, as if the US was a third world country unable to help itself.

So what now? Most informed observers can probably agree that the national lockdown was a very blunt sledgehammer that, while it did serve the few states like California, Washington, and New York, that were hard-hit early, it also needlessly damaged many states that had yet to see many cases. They can also probably agree that the economic stimulus packages, while they may have kept a few, predominantly medium and large businesses in operation, it did little to nothing for those essential workers most at risk from the virus economically, and kept them not just at risk from the virus, but as active agents in continuing and worsening its spread.

A Better Approach: Use Targeted Abatement and Subsidies

The good news is that we now have much more useful data accessible to us and we can be much more targeted and effective in our response, both in terms of saving lives and saving livelihoods.

Recommendation #2: Ramp-up the Most Cost-Effective Transmission Abatement Measures

David Cutler and Lawrence Summers recently published a paper entitled “The COVID-19 Pandemic and the $16 Trillion Virus,” that estimated the total damage from the COVID-19 pandemic at $16 trillion.[14] By comparison, any measure, even in even the billion-dollar range, that shaves off material percentages of that damage should be pursued on a crash basis. They would pay off around 1,000:1 in forestalled economic damage for every dollar spent. Ramping up the Defense Production Act and leveraging foreign mass production to flood the U.S. market with high quality (K)N95 masks should be at the top of the list. Broad marketing and social media ad campaigns promoting mask usage and social distancing and encouraging citizenship through service in support of public health and the public good would also garner healthy returns on investment, particularly in communities that have been bombarded by conflicted messages from political leaders over the last nine months. Another key category for investment and subsidy is to outfit public transportation, and any essential venue that could host super-spreader events, with improved HVAC systems complete with HEPA filters and increased air flow to limit aerosol transmission. Best practices for room ventilation specify complete air replacement within 6-7 minutes.[16]

Recommendation #3: Geographically Target Measures and Subsidies by Prevalence

We can now use real-time maps of coronavirus prevalence by county, even by zip code, to focus abatement measures only where there is need, assigning levels of targeted and tiered abatement measures by severity of local virus concentrations. Abatement measures that are inexpensive, such as social distancing and mask wearing, should be universal. Abatement aspects that are costly, such as meeting and business capacity limits, ventilation upgrade requirements, and in extreme cases, even mandatory local closures, can be tuned to the local prevalence and only applied as necessary for each region independently, first at super-spreader venues and, only as a last resort, universally. Economic support can also be geographically targeted, channeled directly into the businesses and households in each zip code by level of severity and applied abatement. With such a system, lockdowns only happen in isolated areas where it is most necessary, while everywhere else, milder suppression measures will suffice. Measures are tuned, then, by geography, and local pandemic severity.

Figure 4. This shows a real-time online COVID-19 Prevalence chart displaying active infection rates by county (left side map), deaths, or even the California Reopening tiers (right hand map) in a zoomable interactive map. Source: These tools can be used to automate targeting of both individual and corporate abatement measures and the application of stimulus only where it is most needed and impactful.

Recommendation #4: Subsidize Non-essential Workers to Avoid Working In-Person To be clear, during the more extreme lockdowns in those communities struck by high prevalence, people and businesses should not be paid to continue operating nonessential businesses as before. They should be paid explicitly to avoid working in person in order to avoid spreading the virus. While this might sound expensive and burdensome, the alternative is significantly more so, with even wider and longer lasting lockdowns that can no longer be postponed due to the collapse of health systems and overall public health.

Recommendation #5: Subsidize Essential Worker Conditions, Testing, and Sick Leave Another critically important aspect of pandemic and economic recovery is that truly essential workers, particularly those whose work brings them into contact with many people as part of their services, such as delivery drivers and hospital and grocery store staff, must be supported with subsidized quality PPE, ventilation enhancements, frequent and regular molecular lab testing, and symptom screening to ensure that they are not super-spreaders sustaining the pandemic. They also require leave and healthcare policies that protect them and their families when they succumb to the virus so they have no incentive to hide symptoms and continue working while contagious. This helps curtail the virus, limits company liability, and protects the lives of workers and the public. OSHA and other state employee protection agencies could play a critical role in ensuring the requirement of these protections for essential operations.

Recommendation #6: Speed up Abatement Measure Tuning Using Real Time Data

With the latest COVID-19 testing, case, hospitalization, and mortality data updated daily on a county-by-county basis, analytical tools can expose within a week or two whether current abatement measures are effective. If not, they must be tuned immediately in the enlightened best interest of both public health and the economy. State and county leaders should have access to, and be trained, on how to use these tools. Most importantly, they must learn and apply two critical lessons: once the coronavirus is on an exponential growth trend, unless aggressively curtailed, a catastrophic end and mandatory lockdowns are inevitable; and that the quicker the abatement measure adjustments happen, ideally as soon as a positive exponential growth trend is identified, the milder the necessary measures.

Even the simplest analysis can be immediately helpful. Consider that all one has to do to detect exponential growth in a pandemic case count, is to plot the new cases on the Y-Axis of a graph on a Log scale and look for straight lines. Any time there is a straight line, exponential viral growth is happening, and the more positive the slope, the speedier (and worse) the growth. Using such a tool, it is easy to attribute different measures and events as well as their effects on viral spread, positive or negative, and immediately adjust abatement measures accordingly.

The Dakotas are a prime example of poor pandemic governance in this regard. The pandemic in North Dakota has spread exponentially, since June 6, 2020, yet officials only acted to introduce a mask mandate and business capacity limits on November 12, 2020, more than four months after the inevitable exponential trend was obvious to an even casual observer of data. Now, one can already see within the course of two weeks, curve flattening in response to the earlier suggestions by healthcare professionals to wear masks. But taking up that suggestion alone in November after failing to act for four months, is too little, too late. A flat trajectory, while still at high prevalence, means that the virus will keep spreading at its current rate, continuing to overwhelm local hospitals. More severe abatement measures, including business and school closures, will likely be necessary to suppress the virus and recover a working healthcare system. But note that had a mask mandate been instituted in June, most of this growth in prevalence would have been prevented, and no school or business closures would have been necessary.

South Dakota, however, may just take the crown for worst pandemic governance in the U.S. Despite the growing national pandemic, state officials decided to host a 7,500+ person event at Mt. Rushmore on the 3rd of June, complete with fireworks and attendees from all over the nation. This event, in retrospect, proved to be exactly the super-spreader event that local health officials feared.[10] The state then permitted a second, even more impactful week-long super-spreader event, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which drew 365,979 people from all over the country. Not only did this further accelerate the exponential growth of COVID-19 in South Dakota, it seeded, and accelerated, the pandemic through dozens of neighboring states, likely becoming the primary trigger for the current surge across the mid, and mountain West. A Stanford study calculated the total cost of the event to include over 250,000 new COVID-19 cases across the U.S., over 700 deaths, and a staggering healthcare total expense of over $12.2 billion. [11]

Though the exponential COVID-19 growth accelerated with each trigger, South Dakota leadership resisted taking abatement measures seriously until their hospitals were overwhelmed. And note that even city-posted resolutions at the end of October were sufficient to slow and stabilize the then current prevalence levels of the virus. But again, this minor action, without a mandate, could have saved hundreds of lives and billions of dollars had it been enacted in a timely fashion in June. At this point, it is no longer sufficient to suppress the virus and stop the health and economic damage. South Dakota will be forced to close large parts of its economy to recover.

The effects of each triggering event can be seen at clear inflection points in the charts below within a week of their triggering events, with the exponential growth accelerating at each trigger. Even the blip at the right side of each chart below highlights the pandemic worsening due to the November 3, in-person voting. The need for course correction at each turn was measurable and actionable within a week of each event.

New York and California, on the other hand, are proving much more reactive, tuning measures through gradual re-openings and acting within less than two weeks of a clear exponential trend to re-close open businesses and likely in-person schooling as well. [9] That said, they could have detected within 3 weeks of school re-opening that they were going to have to adjust their measures. Had New York done so sooner rather than later, it might have avoided the additional contagion from school openings that likely facilitated the Rockland County, New York outbreak the following month.

This analysis also makes it very clear which states re-opened schools for in-person learning with insufficient abatement measures and a lack of universal screening test regimens. Florida, Colorado, and Massachusetts are but a few examples of the many states in this category, all of which are experiencing inevitable exponential trends in coronavirus prevalence as a result.

After allowing exponential growth to continue for over a month-and-a-half, they will now likely have to close in-person instruction and reimpose stricter abatement measures and improved testing regimens for their next re-opening after a period of state lockdowns lower the prevalence. With this new approach they could have seen within a week or two whether new measures and processes were working and adjusted accordingly without having had to close the schools.

Recommendation #7: Subsidize Surveillance/Screening Testing and Reporting

A key point, however, is that for the above-described quick-response strategy to be effective, there needs to be a universally available molecular test that is centrally coordinated with testing data immediately forwarded for real-time analysis and direction of measures and stimulus. With this in place, federal, state, and county officials will have the latest possible data on the state of the pandemic so they can effectively govern and respond locally. This requirement highlights a key limitation with most of the point-of-service on-site and single-use disposable tests. None of them will help assist an effective and timely monitoring and analysis of the response effort, an essential key to effective operations under the pandemic.

Best practices now dictate that universal screening tests should be applied to everyone seeking social, business, or school interaction not less than twice per week with not more than 24-hour turn-around times (since people can become infectious within 2.5-3 days of being infected themselves.) This means that tests must be inexpensive enough for everyone at risk of spreading the disease to be tested regularly. Subsidies will almost certainly be necessary to ensure that the economically disadvantaged, who in many cases are more exposed as victims and super-spreader scale carriers, have equal or better testing access than those who offer less risk of infecting others. Even most middle-class citizens can hardly afford the testing at the frequency required. The economic case for making all screening tests free for the duration of the pandemic is compelling, as is the case for free quality (K)N95 mask distribution (as Singapore and Taiwan have done). So too, should the eventual coronavirus vaccine distribution be free to every person.

One of the key early targets for ramped-up testing capability should be school students, faculty, staff, and their families. They should be tested not less than twice per week and using only tests whose results are delivered within 24 hours of the test. In addition to the test frequency requirement described above, another new recommendation is that not only should the students and teachers be tested, but also their families. This is based on the recent CDC report highlighting the high likelihood of household spread[15]; coronavirus transmission within the home occurs with such a high probability that, when calculating the risk of school pods by their size, family members should be included in the pod size calculations and surveillance testing plans. Note that this substantially increases the volume/scale requirements for surveillance testing along with the need for significant cost reduction to make the greater frequency and breadth of testing affordable for schools. Subsidies must be made available to support those schools and communities that cannot otherwise afford complete regimens.

There are three important reasons that suggest this focus on schools. First, a majority of U.S. states have collected case data that definitively shows that the coronavirus prevalence started to ramp up exponentially exactly when in-person classes started in August and September. Note that this is despite a general sparseness of reporting of cases attributed to individual schools. And while there is no specific systemic or irrefutable smoking gun for specific universities, the state data makes it clear that school cases are being under-reported. This aligns with numerous anecdotal reports that school reporting is suppressed “for privacy reasons.” Second, ensuring that children can safely attend in-person classes is a key requirement to free up at least half of America’s K-12 parents to go safely back to work instead of having to remain at home caring for children and managing their remote learning. And third, college students, coming to campus from all over the U.S. and even the world, act as vectors, collecting the coronavirus from wherever it is prevalent, and then seeding new infections as students travel. In that sense, campuses are super-collector as well as super-spreader venues and it is critical to dampen the activity that underpins the exponential spread of the virus.

A comprehensive testing infrastructure should have three tiers of testing: Broad building, campus, and city-scale surveillance testing using waste-water sampling, universal inexpensive individual screening tests, and precision diagnostic tests, all supplying real-time results to official county, state, and federal analytical offices.

Charting the Course Ahead

The next few months will be difficult for the economically focused countries like the US, where too many states allowed COVID-19 to spread unchallenged. At this point the prevalence is high across the entirety of many states. This means that the local divide-and-conquer approach cannot be effective until those broader regions have the coronavirus under better control. Broad regions require a wider scale lockdown for at least a few weeks, and as seen from the data above, the sooner they start, the quicker their recovery should be, at a correspondingly lower cost. The uncomfortable implication is that effective regional measures and lockdowns implicitly require travel limits and quarantines for those in high prevalence areas in what is effectively a divide-and-conquer strategy. Without these travel restrictions, unaddressed local prevalence becomes state, and then national prevalence over the course of a few weeks as infected people spread the virus from regions of high prevalence.

China, Australia, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, New Zealand, and Iceland all took such measures to bring the coronavirus successfully under control. They used swift response to extensive data, and the national scale-up of testing and tracing along with divide-and-conquer border-control approaches to isolate healthy regions from the virus-ridden. They have all successfully contained and even eliminated the virus domestically and are reopening their economies. The most recent Chinese efforts even focused measures down to the city block scale. The U.S., the U.K. and broader European countries have, so far, failed to respond similarly, and continue to struggle with renewed explosions of exponentially growing community spread. With a coordinated national response that facilitates local focus and swift response to changing coronavirus environments, the US can succeed by following the examples set by successful countries.

In summary, governments should:

1. Suppress the Virus: Prioritize investment in directly stopping the spread of the virus and saving lives first, and de-prioritize inefficient purely economic stimulus. Once the virus is suppressed the economy can then begin to fix itself.

2. Distribute PPE: Immediately ramp up production and distribution to flood the market with free, high-quality N95 and KN95 masks for every American, not just the healthcare workers.

3. Enhance Strategic Communication: Develop and distribute paid advertising from trusted celebrity spokespersons on both sides of the political isle to promote mask wearing, social distancing, virus uptake, and calls for universal support of our country’s social contract and the public good. Even in the multi-billion-dollar investment range, the cost will be negligible, less than 1/1,000th of what would be incurred in economic damage without them.

4. Use Early-warning: Use real-time data-driven analytics systems to drive rapid coronavirus response with early detection of exponential growth in coronavirus prevalence.

5. Divide and Conquer: Geographically target abatement measures when and where the prevalence is worst, and in particular, as soon as exponential growth is identified using the real-time data. This strategy has been successful in China, Taiwan, France, and

6. Deliver Targeted Support: Target subsidies to those same geographic areas that specifically suffer shutdown losses from the targeted measures above. Subsidies should be prioritized to protect and compensate essential workers including school students, faculty, staff, and their families so they are not super-spreaders in their continued work, and to pay for other economically disenfranchised people not to work, and stay home, both to avoid further community spread of the virus.

7. Implement Best Practices: Train local governments to use the more sophisticated tools, understand the dashboards, and use them to rapidly respond to changes in the pandemic growth by immediately adjusting abatement measures in response to exponential growth detection.

Those in power where the coronavirus is widespread must act now on the best scientific advice available. But for individuals, waiting for an already delayed government response in the face of an exponentially surging virus is a fool‘s game. Do not wait for governments to act. Lock your family down. Convince your schools to return to remote instruction. Move your church services online. Order food deliveries and take-out. Avoid bars, clubs, gyms, restaurants, and cafes. Convince your friends, neighbors, church, and business colleagues to do the same. Convince everyone to take up masks and social distancing as a public service for the common good.

Do it to save lives. Maybe save a friend, or teacher, or someone you love. Maybe even save yourself.


1. Donald L. Luskin, ”The Failed Experiment of Covid Lockdowns,” The Wall Street Journal,…

2. Marc Siegel, “Coronavirus lockdowns don’t work,” Fox Business,

3. Nigel Farage, “Coronavirus ‘lockdowns don’t work’,” Fox Business,

4. Bradley Byrne, “Business and School Lockdowns Don’t Work,”

5. Richard Tice, “”Lockdowns don’t work”: Brexit Party chair on rebranding to be anti-lockdown voice,” LBC,

6. Robert Verbruggen,Lockdowns Don’t Work,” National Review,

7. Surjit S BhallaLockdowns don’t work. It remains a mystery as to why the world entered one”, The Indian Express,

8. “Lockdowns don’t work”, The Critic,

9. “COVID-19 pandemic in New York (state) Government Response,” Wikipedia,

10. Lisa Kaczke, “South Dakota health experts warn Mount Rushmore fireworks could cause coronavirus spike,” Sioux Falls Argus Leader,

11. Dhaval Dave, Andrew I. Friedson, Drew McNichols, Joseph J. Sabia, “The Contagion Externality of a Superspreading Event: The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and COVID-19,”

12. The Eurostat ‘flash estimates’ for GDP, as released in the euroindicators news release (125/2020) on 14 August 2020

13. OECD’s quarterly national accounts data, available at OECD.stat. Data for economic losses by country are much less than perfect. But the IMF and a few other institutions have made attempts to collect the available indicators. As stated at Our World In Data, “In both cases, for References 12 and 13 above, the data relates to the percentage change in GDP compared with the same quarter of the previous year (Q2 2019). This is calculated using a volume measure of GDP and as such, is adjusted to account for inflation between the years. The data is also seasonally adjusted. Note that estimates of GDP are often subject to revision as more data becomes available to national statistical agencies. The pandemic has impacted agencies’ ability to collect information that inform their GDP estimates. Eurostat notes that this is likely to have impacted the quality of the data in some cases (see:” We would also caution that data on contingent guarantees in particular can be treacherous: many clearly have not been taken up in reality and that total losses on loans, equity injections, and such, will not fully show until after the pandemic ends.

14. David Cutler and Lawrence Summers, “The COVID-19 Pandemic and the $16 Trillion Virus,” JAMA Network,

15. Carlos G. Grijalva, Melissa A. Rolfes, Yuwei Zhu, Huong Q. McLean, Kayla E. Hanson, Edward A. Belongia, Natasha B. Halasa, Ahra Kim, Carrie Reed, Alicia M. Fry, H. Keipp Talbot,“Transmission of SARS-COV-2 Infections in Households — Tennessee and Wisconsin, April–September 2020,”

16. Kimberly A. Prather, Linsey C. Marr, Robert T. Schooley, Melissa A. McDiarmid, Mary E. Wilson, Donald K. Milton, “Airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2,”

This paper lists only a few authors who contributed the majority of the writing, but it represents the results of shared data, experiments, analysis, contributions, collected work and tireless discussions, presentations, and brainstorming sessions across a large group of international contributors. They include some of the world’s leading scientists, physicians, epidemiologists, engineers, public health officials, and government leaders across the front lines of the pandemic response, many of whom work on a voluntary basis. This report was improved, in particular, by discussion and comments from Sean Davis, Charles Morefield, David Mussington, and Kim Prather.

Regardless, the views expressed represent the personal views of the contributors and do not reflect official policy or position of their respective employers. All errors and omission are the responsibility of the authors.

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  1. divadab

    FYI the website is behaving a bit oddly as well – today I got a timeout error upon trying to load the main page and yesterday’s links section appeared for a brief while and then disappeared for some time (maybe 30 minutes) before reappearing.

    Not to be foily but is some entity interfering with and/or monitoring your traffic? Russia! Russia! Russia! springs immediately to my msnbc-trained brain…….lol lol

  2. Clive

    I can find no evidence, and the authors do not cite any, to support the claim that

    Strict lockdowns do work, and they work swiftly, within 4-6 weeks.

    What material I have reviewed suggests an approach which aims for “zero COVID” or reducing community transmission to very low levels where test and trace becomes viable is not especially straightforward

    Australia’s lockdown, just emerged from, was closer to four months, not four weeks — and a recurrence outbreak has necessitated another 6-day circuit-breaker lockdown in one state. No country has demonstrated how to escape from a lockdown-release-lockdown cycle in the long term.

    Thus the article fails to adhere to at least one requirement in best practice for reporting health and science stories

    Especially on a story with public health implications, try to frame a new finding in the context of other evidence – e.g. does it reinforce or conflict with previous studies? If it attracts serious scientific concerns, they should not be ignored.

    Scientific consensus does not exist on this point and some clinicians (and the WHO) have suggested otherwise

    1. Nick

      I’m sympathetic to your point because I think use of terms like “strict”, “lockdown”, and “essential” has been so variable and stretched in conversations about COVID response, but the response in China is a clear example of a strict lockdown that worked.

        1. Nick

          It wasn’t that much longer. I think when you get to arguing about 4-6 vs like 6-8 it gets into sophistry.

          1. Clive

            The information I reviewed stated 76 days, which is just shy of 11 weeks. some other sources claim just under three months

            And here is my problem with the original piece and supporters of it who seem to think there’s not this thing called the internet, where those interested in a topic can look up whatever data and the various viewpoints they would like to enquire about.

            The post made a dubious claim, as I previously mentioned, and did not source it or offer anything whatsoever to substantiate it. The post then went on to espouse how we should tear up the entire statute book on human rights and impose what amounts to house arrest on citizens in order to achieve an aim — alongside an implication of a large security and surveillance state to enforce it (within the aforementioned context of removal of much, if not all, checks-and-balances which are normally present in the justice system in democracies).

            These steps would require the upmost trust on the part of the people and scrupulous honesty with the public about how these far-reaching powers would be overseen and an acceptance of the belief they would only be in place for the absolute minimum time necessary, before being disbanded — and not used then for any other purposes (despite history being chock-a-block full of examples where “temporary” powers had a nasty habit of becoming rather more permeant and stretched to encompass areas which they were never intended to cover).

            And yet, a supporter of these steps and those powers was, in an article they wrote, either blatantly wrong in a claim they made and didn’t conduct the most cursory of checking into its validity or else is out-and-out disseminating falsehoods to us. Similarly, I get told, again, with no corroborating evidence (and as I have easily shown, typing “how long Wunhan lockdown” into a search engine came up with several reasonably-reliable sources to show the contrary) that it was “6-8 weeks” when it was almost 11, or more. And then I get told I’m engaging in sophistry to challenge these demonstrably bogus data.

            After that display bad faith and bad behaviour, I’m expected to take the worthiness of the proposed government interventions and their agitators’ words for it, because we’re the good guys and we’re on your side, really we are, that everything will be fine, just believe in it (and us)?

            Not bloody likely.

            1. Nick

              That’s cool that you were able to find something via a search engine. From personal experience I know that 6-8 weeks was about the time between when the lockdown started and when people were able to get food delivered (at all vs reliably is where my haziness come from), which in part reflected incompetence in planning but is just about the definition of “strict” in my mind.

              I agree that it is not clear what exactly the authors are arguing for when they talk about strict lockdowns, and I suspect that if they were being more precise then I would have doubts about its efficacy.

              1. Lambert Strether

                > strict lockdowns

                I would imagine it varies by the political economy. Thailand, for example, “shut down” Bangkok by closing malls and other public spaces and instituted a curfew (along with universal masking, masking being heavily used anyhow, because of PM2.5 pollution). The curfew continued even after commercial spaces relaxed and opened up, which had the effect of curtailing small gatherings in restaurants and especially bars.

                When Bangkok shut down, the many working class people who make Bangkok run lost their income and returned to their villages. This enormous migration turned out in fact to be a positive, since they were then masked and treated by a network of village practioners, and contact tracing was feasible.

                Every political economy/nation-state must interpret “strict” in its own way. It’s unlikely, for example, that in the United States people would return to their villages. It’s just as unlikely that every town would have a town nurse, let alone several.

                In Hong Kong, for example, universal masking was IIRC virtually instant, and took place exactly because people there didn’t trust the government. (I also wonder how many people had become accustomed to masks during the protests.)

          2. Lambert Strether

            > It wasn’t that much longer. I think when you get to arguing about 4-6 vs like 6-8 it gets into sophistry.

            Osterholm, Biden’s advisor, proposed the 4-6 figure now. (Or is it, 3.5 – 9.2? I forget). I believe the figure originates with Andy Slavitt, whom I loathe, but who I think is right in this instance. From Slavitt’s Medium post, in July:

            We can virtually eliminate the virus any time we decide to. We can be back to a reasonably normal existence: schools, travel, job growth, safer nursing homes and other settings. And we could do it in a matter of weeks. If we want to.

            Take New Zealand. With its fancy curve and life back to normal. Why can’t we? Not fair, you say. It’s an island nation. Okay. What about Germany? Not an island nation, large, growing diversity. Don’t like that comparison? What about countries that have been in big trouble? There’s Italy, France, and Spain. Those countries had it reasonably bad the same time we did. In fact, pick virtually any country you want.

            But don’t tell me the United States can’t take action if we want to. And we can’t face the families of 150,000 people who didn’t have to die and tell them this had to happen. And I think it’s why our national political leaders won’t go near these families and the grieving process.

            The good news — and it is good news — is we are always four to six weeks from being able to do what countries around the world have done.

            Let’s say we threw the kitchen sink at Covid-19 in the U.S. Let’s say we started now with the goal of being open for business in October — meaning schools, in-person voting, sports, everything. If we did everything. What would happen?

            So let’s define the kitchen sink:

            Start with universal mask wearing. We didn’t do this in March and April, and let’s chalk it up to faulty instructions. But we know better now.

            Keep the bars and restaurants and churches and transit closed. All hot spots.
            Prohibit interstate travel.

            4. Prohibit travel into the country (no one will let us into their country so that shouldn’t be hard).

            5. Have hotels set up to allow people with symptoms to isolate from their families at no cost.

            6. Instead of 50% lockdown (which is what we did in March and April), let’s say it’s a 90% lockdown. Meaning most of the Americans who couldn’t stay home in April because they were picking crops or driving trucks or working in health care would stay home with us.
            That means the economy would take a several-week hit. And we would need extended unemployment insurance.

            It would be a tough few weeks, but we could still do things: be outside, enjoy nature, gather safely with friends. Our grandparents who lived through a decade-long depression, a six-year world war, or whatever hardship they faced in their country would tell us we would make it.

            I quote Slavitt at length because he gives an operational defintion of strict, at least in the United States. Slavitt concludes:

            The major objection to all this? People who think this infringes on their “rights.” But on the way to Walmart, they had to drive 30 mph. They couldn’t park in a handicapped space. And they can’t just eat the cheese balls in the store. Their rights can’t harm others.

            I couldn’t agree more. What about my right not to breathe lethal aerosols?

            Now, to be fair to Clive, it is true that the European lockdowns succeeded temporarily, and then cases rose again. I would argue that, just as in the “economically focused” United States, they opened up again too soon and too much.

            It’s beyond absurd to argue that the armory of techniques suggested here, including masks and lockdowns, do not work. It’s not up for debate if — unlike Anglosphere provincials — you look at what East Asia and Southeast Asia have done (Indonesia being the exception that proves all the rules). The real question ought be be why we are apparently unable to study them and learn from their successes.

            NOTE * And who knows what is happening in Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar, sadly.

    2. Louis Fyne

      With Clive—do strict lockdowns work? Honest question, not looking to start a foil hat fight.

      Of course if one decrees people can’t leave their house and receive all food via delivery, transmission falls to zero. But there are “essential” workers who still need to leave the house and interact with other people.

      I ask as this study has viral transmission unabated despite strict containment measures.

      SARS-CoV-2 Transmission among Marine Recruits during Quarantine

      1. .Tom

        That’s a 14 day study. At 28 the picture might be different. idk.

        Surely our understanding of contagion means that a lock down will be effective if it is long enough and strict enough, right? But still, that’s a big if.

        And even if that were practicable in the USA, such a lock down involves (see Clive 15:25UTC) a massive expansion of state power, likely more than Patriot Act and the rest that Bush/Cheney/Obama used 9/11 and public safety to justify.

        1. Lambert Strether

          > a massive expansion of state power

          As 9/11 was blowback for our imperial pretensions, so Covid is blowback for globalization (as I have urged).

          That said, I’m not sure the cases are comparable. Regardless of the importance one places on Osama Bin-Laden and his ilk, 9/11 did not risk a death curve approaching the vertical or ruin. Covid does. Personally, I think the state power expansion after 9/11 was completely unjustified. Are you saying it’s worth the death count to avoid masking and quarantines?

      2. Pookah Harvey

        These actions seem to have worked for the Atlantic Provinces in Canada. Even though they are adjacent to Quebec and Ontario, which currently have some of the worst numbers for Covid in the world, the Atlantic Provinces have some of the best. Quebec is having a case rate of 8 per 100,000 while the Atlantic Provinces have 0.04. It seems to suggest that with the proper government actions Covid can be kept at bay and can somewhat provide a return to normal activities.

        1. JEHR

          I’m in the Atlantic Bubble and there are many things that contribute to our (relative) success: We are small provinces with small populations and no really, really large cities. We can easily control who comes into the provinces because there are limited entry points. Nfld and PEI are islands which make control of visitors much easier. You could also note that in my province (NB) most of the young people have left for Alberta and that leaves a fairly large old population left at home. We older ones are more inclined to obey all the restrictions that are not hard to follow (and even the ones that are) so we can live our lives. So that’s the story.

    3. Code Name D

      What material I have reviewed suggests an approach which aims for “zero COVID” or reducing community transmission to very low levels where test and trace becomes viable is not especially straightforward

      Did you read the whole thing? I found the conclusion to be rather interesting.

      This spring, a national lockdown saw the vast majority of the population in the UK confined to their homes, and that failed to eradicate the coronavirus. It therefore seems unlikely that lighter-touch measures would succeed and reasonable to assume that a lengthier and possibly more restrictive lockdown might be necessary to achieve this proposal, and that it would be followed by draconian surveillance of infected people and removal from their families, as seen in South Korea. Testing, while vital, is not an end in itself and can only reduce transmission if it leads to more frequent and larger scale isolation. I’m not sure that there is the appetite amongst the general public for such severe measures, or that the ambition is particularly realistic.”

      I am not entirely sure what you are trying to argue here.

      I’ll admit that the NET’s evidence on the effectiveness of lock-downs in controlling the virus is rather thin. But that isn’t the scope of this article. What it examines is the consequence of lock-downs both effective and in-effective, on the broader economy.

      And here is its conclusion. Sacrifice the economy to save lives – and you end up saving both. Sacrifice lives to save the economy and you end up saving neither. Thus it would seem reasonable to conclude, given the data presented here, than an aggressive approach is better economically than the “stay open” approach being practiced in the states.

      1. Clive

        My point, which I linked to as evidence, was that any notion that it is universally accepted in the scientific and medicine communities that lockdowns are an effective tool for significantly reducing COVID-19 is incorrect. It is disputed and contested. I use Science Media Centre as a source precisely because it takes great pains to present all sides, all opinions and all evidence alongside, where possible, the context. That way, I, in my own small way, can adhere to the Best Practice for medical and scientific reporting — a key dimension of which is to present a reader with all the information and allow the reader to draw their own conclusions (without trying to skew a discussion just to get my own ideas accepted by echo-chamber’ing).

        So on lockdowns and their effectiveness, or otherwise, I stand by my original statement that this is not proven.

        As to the original post, this clearly stated that lockdowns are effective (I quoted the offending except in my original comment above) and further went on to make even more dubious claims about their length of duration. When a journalist makes flat-out incorrect statements and makes completely unsubstantiated assertions, it’s hard to then take any of their other, wider, conclusions seriously.

        1. Tom Bradford

          It worked in New Zealand.

          It worked in New Zealand because it was early, before the virus was widely established in the community, and hard. Probably unnecessarily hard and perhaps overlong, but given the unknowns it was decided not to waste the effort by taking risks.

          A population of 5 million saw less than 1, 500 cases and 25 deaths, and life both social and economic has been pretty much back to normal since June.

          Yes it was expensive and triggered a recession, but much of the latter is a result of our having to keep the borders closed because most of the rest of the world failed. Yes being an island helped, but the UK is an island too, and isolated the Continent pretty effectively in 1939 while the US has only two borders, one of which is already closed against it and the other is probably the most closely guarded border outside the Korean Peninsular. Had the US chosen to do in March what New Zealand did, had the EU decided to unify and do what New Zealand did, it could all have been over now bar the shouting but, as the article says, most politicians tried to compromise if they even comprehended the challenge and, as politicians usually do, failed.

          Lacking a vaccine the only way to stop an air-born contagion is to stop people breathing at each other. Universal, proper use of effective masks will do it but if take-up isn’t Universal because some people are fools and/or if enough effective masks aren’t available and/or even those who do use them don’t do so consistently or correctly or for as long as it takes, a lock-down is the only option.

          1. Clive

            New Zealand is, as has been remarked before significantly different from most countries and virtually unrecognisable compared with Europe. The fact that no-where has been able to replicate suppression of community transmission (apart from short-term) is strongly suggestive it is atypical and not a template.

            Not only do 10-20% of workers commute inter-region in their home country, 2 million people commute to a different country in the EU alone That is equivalent of more half the workforce of New Zealand leaving the country to go to work every day (or working weekdays and coming back weekends). Even if that were limited to essential workers such as those in the energy production sector, healthcare, supply chain, utility maintenance, agri-food etc., that’s still hundreds of thousands of long-distance (international) movements a day or a week. Domestically, you’re talking tens of millions of essential commutes across different regions.

            I’m not sure potentially invalid comparisons are necessarily useful.

            1. Tom Bradford

              I beg to differ.

              New Zealand’s lock-down was hard. Nothing was open but supermarkets, pharmacies, petrol-stations and hospitals. How many check-out girls, pump attendants, pharmacists and nurses commute to a different town, let alone country? How much of that international travel you refer to was really essential, if push comes to shove? How many people have now discovered that their commutes to the office by car or business class can be done just as well from home?

              Because the lockdown was hard ‘supply chains’ were reduced to essentials, too. How many daily truck trips does it take to keep a pharmacy supplied?

              And it wasn’t easy. There was a noticeable uptick in domestic violence and mental health problems with people confined to their homes day after day. There was a high price, and not just financially.

              It seems to me you’re just making excuses. There’s nothing special about New Zealand. Sure it’s an island which makes isolation easier, but as I pointed out the UK is also an island. Yes its harder to lock down if you have two or three open borders with countries that don’t, but that’s a political problem the EU is supposed to solve, and one the US doesn’t really have.

              New Zealand succeeded because we had a leader who made the right decisions and got the population behind her. Any other country could have done the same. Perhaps it’s time to do some navel-gazing to ask why they didn’t.

              1. Clive

                All European countries had lengthy and strict lockdowns — Italy and Spain were regularly featured in media reporting. And Germany was initially hailed as Europe’s New Zealand. One or two countries who failed to achieve the same long-term outcomes despite following initially identical policies could fairly be blamed on bad governance.

                An entire continent of 30+ countries? That explanation simply doesn’t add up. Everywhere else you can think of has had to go through the same cycles of multiple short lockdowns in fairly quick successions (such as Israel which no sooner ends a lockdown then is on the way to starting another) or single, lengthy lockdowns.

                And have you actually lived and worked in a typical large European country? The U.K. energy sector alone (the very definition of essential) employs 680,000 people. While their 30-40% of administration staff may be able to be furloughed or work from home, that’s still around 10% of the working population of New Zealand who must travel — sometimes a hundred miles a day or more — and usually must work collaboratively in a team for safety reasons — just in one industry.

                There is such a thing as being lucky and mistaking it for skill (or similarly wrapping the mundane and happenstancial up in other perceived virtuous qualities).

          2. Nick

            Good point about New Zealand. Some people are against lockdowns and that’s an argument they can make. But to pretend it hasn’t worked anywhere is just silly. Whether it can work in country X or Y though…

          3. Louis Fyne

            NZ is (in no order):

            isolated, travel-isolated, highly educated, low income inequality, largely ethnically-linguistic homogeneous, citizens have high trust in govt and society…

            all factors which boost social compliance with anti-flu measures.

            compare-contrast NZ with Taiwan, Korea, Canada….then US, UK, Belgium, France

            1. Wukchumni

              Early on in the virus, I watched a 15 minute press conference with the PM of NZ who was ebullient in her ‘we can defeat this as a team, lets do it!’ approach, and the very same day watched a 1 1/2 hour Trump presser which was completely the opposite, setting the table for where we are now.

    4. Louis Fyne

      Food processing plants, everything from meat to apples, were not built for socially distancing. Work is done by people who are cheek to jowl.

      Force those people to stay home, the country starves.

      Even if every city dweller was locked into their home, covid would run throughout the countryside—waiting to be unleashed onto the city folk when they cower out of their door.

      Will everyone in NYC and the Beltway volunteer to be locked down until vaccination is ubiquitous? I’m guessing not.

    5. The Rev Kev

      Clive, when you said ‘Australia’s lockdown, just emerged from, was closer to four months, not four weeks’ you know that has a big qualifier, don’t you? If it had been the whole country it would have taken only several weeks. But the Federal government and the two biggest States went only for suppression while the rest of the States went for eradication. In fact, Scotty from Marketing has come out several times and said that eradication is off the table and that they will only go for suppression. And it is because of this that we have been dealing with explosions of this virus the past few months.

      The reason that Scotty and some Premiers went this way was to save their economies with what they figured was acceptable losses, mostly oldies. But the virus does not work this way. You either eliminate it or you have to have an “accordion economy” as it opens-closes-opens-closes with each outbreak of this virus. The whole problem here is that we have a business/political leadership class that cannot see further than this financial quarter. They refuse to see this in a long term viewpoint and in trying to save short-term gains, will end up losing the lot.

      1. Clive

        See my above point to Tom. Many countries did adopt the strict lockdown approach. As soon as they opened up, back came the cases. And some countries like Germany have exemplary test, trace and track.

        And you can’t get getter adherence to social distancing and mast adoption than Japan — which is currently experiencing its highest daily total cases to date.

        It’s unrealistic to expect people to simply airbrush out all these “exceptions” to a theory and still think people will go along with that theory forming public health policy.

    1. The Rev Kev

      Skippy can confirm that we have a word to describe people like that guy that lied. We call them d***heads. South Australia can back off their measures now but long term this may not have been a waste of time & resources. I would call it a live-fire exercise and South Australia discovered that its contact-trace system was not up to scratch and I imagine that it will be rectified now. Probably now the other States will also check their plans to see how they would be able to cope with a similar outbreak. Mind you, that South Australian Premier is definitely not a happy camper at the moment. Give long enough and it will be a funny story but nobody is laughing in SA at the moment.

  3. Bob Hertz

    Do we really know if the stupid Sturgis motorcycle rally was a super-spreader event?

    I certainly think it is possible, and I expected it to be so, but is there any proof of same? Are there any interviews with attendees who got Covid after going to the rally?

    1. Louis Fyne

      Superspreader events outside the US had the following things in common:

      * close quarters;
      * indoors;
      * event lasted multiple hours.

      A reasonable question to ask would be: how did the folks in Sturgis who gathered inside bars fair compare to folks who stayed outside.

      To automatically say that every biker was a superspread is lazy science from the media and politicians.

      1. Aumua

        To automatically say that every biker was a superspread is lazy science from the media and politicians.

        I think it would only take one superspreader biker to make it a superspreader event.

  4. ChrisFromGeorgia

    I am a bit surprised, given that the US is a consumer-based economy, that it hasn’t dawned on some folks that keeping the economy “open” while allowing the virus to spread through vulnerable populations is “winning a battle but losing the war.”

    We’re on track for 330K fatalities by late winter, and that is 1 out of every 1000 Americans. The dead don’t shop. Or buy homes, cars or go on vacations.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Much of the elite and the PMC pretending to be elite are infected by the “End of History” nonsense. They genuinely don’t consider how things work including their own myths and could care less. It’s not dissimilar to the elite surprise about how much small businesses were spending on rent during the PPP rollout. Then instead of going ruhroh, they saw stocks rebounded, amazon was delivering, and they had full freezers of ice cream and said well our job is done.

      When Tom Hanks was sick, air travel was the primary spread, and treatments were suspect at best, they cared, but if it doesn’t affect them immediately and personally, they won’t care.

    2. Louis Fyne

      Korea, Taiwan, Japan kept-are keeping their economies open.

      Yes, apples to oranges comparison. But lockdown doesn’t automatically equal victory.

      In the US (maybe W. Europe too???), the public conversation re. Covid is driven by a lot of lazy and/or sensational media coverage and politicians on both sides who selectively pick and use empirical data.

      Compare/contrast with East Asia.

    3. Amfortas the hippie

      “… The dead don’t shop. Or buy homes, cars or go on vacations…”

      or get Disability, or need healthcare, or compete for dwindling jobs, or agitate for a better world…
      when i look at the grand scope of failure all around me…from moronic superspreader events in the white house, to the majority of the folks in my county refusing to wear a mask, or do anything, really…because “it ain’t real!”…i can’t help but think of Paul Ehrlich( )
      from pollution to global warming to an hundred other existential crises bearing down upon us all…most, if not all, are due to the simple fact that we are as the deer on plum island: there’s too many of us for this one planet to sustain.
      the figure we used back in the day was that it would take 5 earths for everyone in the world(back then) to live at the level of a moderately poor american.
      i am hypercynical…sure….and i don’t trust the “leadership” as far as i can throw them…still, they pride themselves on cold rationalism and “making the hard decisions”.
      ergo, i don’t think it’s tinfoil at all to consider that some dead eyed egghead(Eichmann) with access to those in a position of power hasn’t thought about this pandemic as an opportunity.
      the only alternative explanation i can think of for our idiotic and cruelly incompetent handling of this event is a level of short sighted and breathtaking stupidity that is almost as horrific as purposefully “letting it rip” in order to thin the herd.
      we’ll likely never know, of course.
      and i wonder…after ejaculating all that foil…if the vaccines prove ineffectual/harmful, how long could this continue?
      what’s the road to nonmedical, nonscientifically derived(ie: 10th century “natural”) End of Pandemic in USA look like?

      and yes,lol…my Inner Doomer is showing.
      maybe time for another week of sabbatical.

    1. Janie

      The soaring covid numbers in the Dakotas and nearby states track with the location of Sturgis and the rally dates.

  5. Marshall Auerback

    A country such as China that literally welded people’s doors shut so that they couldn’t get out of their homes is hardly a realistic model. Nor are New Zealand or Australia, relatively remote ISLANDS, that sensibly locked down their borders before there could be a huge number of incoming overseas visitors. Arguably, if Trump had extended his China ban to all global travel, the US could have escaped the worst (although when Trump took that measure he was criticised and castigated as a racist – maybe true, but beside the point here). In other parts of East Asia, Taiwan, S. Korea and Japan all introduced varying forms of restriction, but they never went to full lockdown. Schools, offices, restaurants and most entertainment facilities in Taiwan remained open. But they had a comprehensive test & trace system in place, as did South Korea.

    We in the west used to do targeted quarantines during times of previous epidemics (TB, Polio, the pandemics of 1958 and 1969). There’s never been a time before where a decision was taken to lock down an entire global economy. Perhaps this is a function of the fact that in so many western countries, the public healthcare infrastructure was denuded through decades of austerity, and hopefully we’ve learned from that. but all the lockdowns appear to have achieved in the west is the exacerbation of these pre- existing pathologies.

  6. Arthur Dent

    The US has become an obtuse failed state. We can have a functioning economy if we choose to.

    Regarding Covid-19, good protocols work and they are not particularly expensive or onerous to implement. You just need to grasp the concept that viruses are not Republicans or Democrats and we have moved beyond the 1800s on the science front, and you are good to go.

    My wife is a school teacher. The school district was slow on the uptake on what to do, but has finally grasped what works and are now installing things in her classroom similar to what we put in at the beginning of this school year. So her classroom now has two school provided air purifers running 24/7. She has a small fan that blows out of one of the two open windows. The kids are great about behavior and masks – it is tiring but they are troopers. The school is on a “hybrid” model with half the class present Mon-Tue everybody off doing virtual school on Wed and the other half of the class in on Th-Fr. Kids do virtual schooling when they are not in school. Not as good as normal school, but far better than shutting down and going all virtual.

    The school district is doing testing now since community spread has picked up. School positivity testing rates are less than 10% of the community positivity rate.It appears that having people in schools reduces transmission rates substantially compared to not being in school. The trick is to stay away from adult staff – they are far more likely to be positive due to stupid behavior outside of school as a high percentage of the positive cases are staff who are not in school, but working from home. The universal masking, social distancing, and air purifiers means staff don’t transmit it in school though.

    I have a field job with a couple of dozen people working in an area with a high number of cases. We carefully set up the job to keep people socially distanced, provided PPE (including face masks) and hand sanitizer to staff, and air purifiers in office areas. So far nobody has gotten sick. They stay out of restaurants and bars (even though they were open until recently) and eat take out or cook for themselves in efficiency hotel rooms. They don’t get together except in outdoor, socially distanced settings.

    The hospitality and travel industries are the key ones to lockdown. The federal government should go the German route and give them 75% of their 2019 receipts so they can pay their fixed costs and staff while they operate in a dramatically reduced mode. That would greatly suppress the disease and most people would be able to have reasonably ordinary careers and lives and the medical profession would not be in a year to two-year disaster area.

  7. Dave_in_Austin

    I’ll just note that ethnically and culturally homogeneous countries from Finland to China seem to be doing better than ethnically and culturally diverse countries. I could speculate on the causes here but I won’t.

    But the observable difference should open-up the conversation about how diverse countries like the U.S. can organize to create a consensus that will allow the sorts of actions that seem to work in less diverse nations.

    Also… Yves and the team are having real problems keeping this site working. None of them have a deep technical background in what is “under the hood” in the internet world; they are learning on the fly and face a steep learning curve.

    I can’t help, but I suspect that among our readers are a few from that technical world or know people in that world. The site runs on Cloudflair and Word Press and probably some identifiable hardware. The problems seem to be chronic and manifest themselves at different physical locations. Word Press is a huge, arcane and complex program. Google “Word Press bug reports” and you get more than 16,000 response. Yves et al need long-time experts to consult, not hand-wavers like me; people who know how to track and fix bugs in this arcane arena. The people I know with this level of computer skills (unfortunately in other subject areas) sit in their spare bedroom and make $250,000 +/year. Yves can’t afford them but at least one or two who understand why this site is important might be persuaded to volunteer a bit of time. How they can be identified and evaluated and the info passed to Yves and Lambert… I don’t have a clue.

    Any takers?

    1. Lambert Strether

      We do have technical experts on tap and they are working hard, and with some success so far; we anticipate more success shortly (for example, we have discovered at least one of the slow queries that has been killing us).

      But thanks!

  8. Lex

    I’ve been tracking the numbers every Thursday since March 19th, when the number of infected was 229k and the dead was 9,357. There was something about the weekly exercise of writing them down, and looking at them on a sheet of paper in my own handwriting that sits to the left of my keyboard, that has left me in no doubt where the country is headed regarding Covid. Yesterday I wrote down 57,220,132 infected and 1,364,832 dead.*

    All summer the numbers for Colorado dribbled in for dead people. Five to 10 was a big day; three was more average. I’ve been gasping all week at the numbers I’m seeing in daily totals. Last week the total was 145. And yet I was downtown last week, walking up the sidewalk with my mask in place and attempting to ‘social distance’, where almost everyone I saw was mask-free (not the shopkeepers), yapping in each other’s faces, and avoiding eye contact like they were politely averting their eyes from my birth defect, which made social distancing entirely my responsibility. You don’t need to distance from what you pointedly don’t see.

    If the states attempt to lockdown their citizens for even longer this winter, without enforcement of the kind that brings real consequences to those for whom nothing else will alter their behavior toward the common good, then that lockdown too will fail. Only a safe and effective virus can save our asses. As has been discussed here, there are good reasons to doubt that the early vaccines will be safe and effective. We’re in for the long haul and almost entirely on our own. I wonder how many of us will make it.


  9. furies


    I do wonder how many of us will be alive this time next year.

    Agree with everything Amfortas stated above. And concur with Lex. Perfectly reflects my location, except even the shop owner don’t mask up. My *pharmacist* doesn’t bother with a mask in his tiny store!

    Very difficult to stay safe this way.

  10. Jeff N

    This article frustrates me because I’m in that category where it’s hard to tell whether I’m losing my job because of COVID or not. Our company’s sales are down about 40% this year, I’ve been told I’m getting the axe next year, and they’ve already hired the long-term replacements of me. Would our company have made this reorganization if sales were flat or growing? Maybe, maybe not.

  11. juliania

    If I mask, you are safe. If you do not mask my safety is questionable. You may get off lightly, with no real risk because of health factors that have enabled you to cope.

    This is very like the scenario in which a person driving recklessly has the momentum to escape the perils of a crash he or she causes.

    In the above scenario, don’t we give a penalty to the reckless driver?

    If we don’t penalize the non-maskers and those who congregate wilfully allowing covid to spread we cannot defeat this pandemic. Mr. Auerback above condemned a Chinese lockdown practice which may or may not have happened. Certainly when the virus was raging people in Wuhan had to stay there. Wasn’t that a helpful thing to do?

    I say it was. We are not handling this situation well. This virus kills people. Those who flagrantly assist its spread ought to be separated from those who don’t. It would be a kindness to both. I’m happy to be in lockdown in my community and to wear a mask when around others. If everyone would do that we could be like any of those other countries, ethnicity be damned! This has nothing to do with ethnicity; it has to do with compassion and common sense.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      They may not be separable. But they may be identifiable and list-able. And those on the no-mask-rebel list should be denied entry to any and every health office/facility/anything which exists in the United States.

      Those who seek to infect the rest of us certainly should not be able to make the rest of us give them health care. They should be given a serving of Personal Responsibility to go with their serving of Freedom. Let them put their faith in their belief that Coronavid is a kind of flu.

      Let Darwin decide if they are right or wrong.

      1. Clive

        May I add smokers, the obese and those who don’t do the recommended cardiovascular exercise quotas? Non-prescription drug users are next on my list. Oh, and people who do dangerous sports? And while I’m at it, people who have auto accidents while exceeding the speed limit or not stopping at “STOP” signs?

        [… some time later]

        And people who run while holding scissors. And…

        1. vlade

          Majority of those you listed do not, generally, endenger others. Some – like smokers, and dangerous drivers – do, and in those cases we already have mechanisms to deal with it.

          STOP sign is not a recommendation, if you break it (and get caught) you get penalised. Don’t know how it’s in the UK right now, but if you cause an accident while breaking any of those, you’re way more likely to end up in jail and w/o your driving license than if you cause one w/o breaking the rules of the road.

          Oh, and I’d really like to see the reaction these days when you come into a crowded shop
          (well, if you could find one) and run around with scissors skidding around the corners for any lenght of time.

          Yes, a voluntary compliance is much better. But since humans will not, we have rules and laws to deal with the situations (which, I’d also point out, will cease to work when majority will ignore them, unless you’re willing to deploy deadly force).

          1. Clive

            No, this was in a context of denying — or allowing — healthcare in relation to those activities.

            There are, in most jurisdictions, civil penalties for breaking mask mandates or social gatherings and so on.

            The original comment seemed to want to widen withdrawing healthcare to the list of sanctions. I can find no parallel to any other area of human activity which carries this punishment. With good reason.

            And the reason for my cautionary quip was this: The original article was, if I interpret it correctly, an attempt at a public health policy manifesto. It sought to influence public health policy in a particular direction. But public health policy requires consensus of around 80% to, ideally 90% of the people or else it fails totally or, at best, partially. The steps in the article, if treated as a manifesto not only have not, currently, been able to establish consensus of support but, conversely, they have got around 50% of the populations in most countries diametrically opposed to them.

            Our original two commenters above — who are the COVID-19 equivalent of hanging judges — presumably are hoping to convince the body of “strict” (whatever that may mean) lockdown sceptics and those who are wondering if test and trace isn’t a little bit unicorn-like as a solution (amongst other things being recommended) to change their views.

            However, such invocations are not only highly unlikely to convince doubters to reconsider, they are just as well going to serve to further entrench opinion against what’s proposed.

            If people just like a good old whinge about why doesn’t anyone listen to their bright ideas, then that’s fine. But if they are seeking to actually move a dial on some issue or other, it doesn’t hurt to suggest that what they’re doing may be completely counterproductive. Not, though, that I suspect any of these words will have any effect on the above commenters, who are no doubt as we speak telling everyone they know what they’ve just told us. And sending not a few of them running for the hills from this kind of crankiness.

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