Do Lockdowns Save Many Lives? In Most Places, the Data Say No

The speed with which officials shuttered the economy appears not to be a factor in Covid deaths.

By T.J. Rodgers.. April 26, 2020

Do quick shutdowns work to fight the spread of Covid-19? Joe Malchow, Yinon Weiss and I wanted to find out. We set out to quantify how many deaths were caused by delayed shutdown orders on a state-by-state basis.

To normalize for an unambiguous comparison of deaths between states at the midpoint of an epidemic, we counted deaths per million population for a fixed 21-day period, measured from when the death rate first hit 1 per million—e.g.,?three deaths in Iowa or 19 in New York state. A state’s “days to shutdown” was the time after a state crossed the 1 per million threshold until it ordered businesses shut down.

We ran a simple one-variable correlation of deaths per million and days to shutdown, which ranged from minus-10 days (some states shut down before any sign of Covid-19) to 35 days for South Dakota, one of seven states with limited or no shutdown. The correlation coefficient was 5.5%—so low that the engineers I used to employ would have summarized it as “no correlation” and moved on to find the real cause of the problem. (The trendline sloped downward—states that delayed more tended to have lower death rates—but that’s also a meaningless result due to the low correlation coefficient.)

No conclusions can be drawn about the states that sheltered quickly, because their death rates ran the full gamut, from 20 per million in Oregon to 360 in New York. This wide variation means that other variables—like population density or subway use—were more important. Our correlation coefficient for per-capita death rates vs. the population density was 44%. That suggests New York City might have benefited from its shutdown—but blindly copying New York’s policies in places with low Covid-19 death rates, such as my native Wisconsin, doesn’t make sense.

Sweden is fighting coronavirus with common-sense guidelines that are much less economically destructive than the lockdowns in most U.S. states. Since people over 65 account for about 80% of Covid-19 deaths, Sweden asked only seniors to shelter in place rather than shutting down the rest of the country; and since Sweden had no pediatric deaths, it didn’t shut down elementary and middle schools. Sweden’s containment measures are less onerous than America’s, so it can keep them in place longer to prevent Covid-19 from recurring. Sweden did not shut down stores, restaurants and most businesses, but did shut down the Volvo automotive plant, which has since reopened, while the Tesla plant in Fremont, Calif., was shuttered by police and remains closed.

How did the Swedes do? They suffered 80 deaths per million 21 days after crossing the 1 per million threshold level. With 10 million people, Sweden’s death rate?without a shutdown and massive unemployment?is lower than that of the seven hardest-hit U.S. states—Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Louisiana, Connecticut, Michigan, New Jersey and New York—all of which, except Louisiana, shut down in three days or less. Despite stories about high death rates, Sweden’s is in the middle of the pack in Europe, comparable to France; better than Italy, Spain and the U.K.; and worse than Finland, Denmark and Norway. Older people in care homes accounted for half of Sweden’s deaths.

We should cheer for Sweden to succeed, not ghoulishly bash them. They may prove that many aspects of the U.S. shutdown were mistakes—ineffective but economically devastating—and point the way to correcting them.

Mr. Rodgers was founding CEO of Cypress Semiconductor Corp.

April 28, 2020 | 28 Comments » | 707 views

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  1. Over the past five years, Sweden’s death rate has varied between over 92,000 people dying in a year to “only” somewhat less than 89,000 people per year. Their health statistics department claims to keep accurate current records of deaths, unlike many countries. So far, according to the the website the local.se, quoting the Swedish Health ministry’s statistics, they have so far this year suffered much higher than average death rates in only three weeks. So far, at any rate, although they have 2,200 deaths attributed to coronavirus, that is still less than the gap between their “high” of 92,000 in 2018 and their “low” of about 88,700 in 2019–described as an unusually mild flue season.

    The Swedish ambassador to the U.S. gave an interview to U.S. reporters (from Time and Newsweek) in which he claimed that Stockholm, the city where most of Sweden’s coronavirus cases have occurred, is close to achieving “herd immunity” from the virus. That seems to be their main strategy for defeating the epidemic, although the government denies it publicly. They are letting most people circulate freely (there are some exceptions). in the belief that that is the quickest way to achieve “herd immunity” to the virus. We shall have to wait and see if it works.

    It is well known that exposure to sunlight and fresh air are both preventatives of infectious disease and good treatment for those recovering from them. The winter in Sweden, one of the coldest densely populated countries in the world, only ends toward the end of April. We shall this summer if coronavirus cases drop sharply or not. Next fall and winter we shall see if there are as many cases in in the next “flu season” as in this one. That will either validate or invalidate the “herd immunity” thesis.

  2. If you compare two countries of relatively similar size Israel & Belgium it could be argued that lock downs do save lives. Israel locked down fairly early plus isolated people with the virus when they could and tracked them. Belgium did not lock down and got the virus fairly early from Wuhan.

    Also Taiwan shut down successfully very EARLY and was hugely successful in saving lives beyond any reasonable doubt!

    Belgium deaths Covid -19 7,331 -Deaths per million population – 633

    Israel deaths Covid-19 – 208 -Deaths per million population – 24

    Taiwan – Covid 19 deaths 6 – Deaths per million 0.3

    Taiwan shut down most flights from China very early and all from Wuhan.

    So when you shutdown matters. Shutting down after their are numerous carriers of the Virus is clearly not so effective. So how and when you shutdown was and is most important.

  3. @ Bear Klein:
    Hi, Bear. For what it’s worth,

    “On 21 March it was observed that more than half of the patients in the hospital Oost-Limburg in Genk were from Turkish origin. Secretary of state Zuhal Demir urged the Turkish community in Limburg to abide by the quarantine measures.[59]”

    Limburg has the highest COVID fatality rate in Belgium.
    59 “Meer dan de helft van coronapatiënten in Ziekenhuis Oost-Limburg in Genk is van Turkse origine” (in Dutch). Het Laatste Nieuws. 21 March 2020. Archived from the original on 22 March 2020. Retrieved 22 March 2020.

  4. The highest death rates were undoubtedly among Jews and Italians. What does that tell anyone?

  5. Taiwan never shut down. It still hasn’t.

    Belgium shut down as soon a WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
    It It is still shut down.

    Israel probably has a lower death rate than Belgium and most other countries because the majority of its doctors and nurses are Jews. It has many of the finest doctors and most dedicated, well-trained nurses in the world.

  6. Taiwan shut down flights from China that is what was necessary not to let the virus in! Plus it took other proactive measures. It used it brains and did not act recklessly.

    To ensure coordination, Taiwan set up a unified command center, led by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, which manages resources, holds daily briefings, and is in control of public messaging. The authorities have also moved quickly to track down infected persons and map the cases to show the sources of infection.

    Measures it took: https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/03/16/taiwan-china-fear-coronavirus-success/

  7. Letting the virus in and reacting too late for closing killed many Belgium’s not a bad healthcare system.

    Belgian healthcare system ranked among the best ones in Europe
    25 February 2019

    According to the latest report by the Swedish think tank Health Consumer Powerhouse, the Belgian healthcare system is among the best in Europe. The Health Consumer Powerhouse report compares the health care systems of thirty countries.

    Compared to the 2017 data, in which it ranked 8th, in 2018 the Belgian healthcare system ranked 5th. In 2016 it was 4th.

    One of Belgium’s strongest points is its accessible health care and the fact that patients are taken care of quickly.

    https://brussels-express.eu/belgian-healthcare-system-ranked-among-the-best-ones-in-europe/

  8. @ Michael S:
    Downstate New York has by far the most amount of cases in the US and deaths. This is a crowded (dense) area. Some of the Jews at first flouted the social distancing rules and suffered the consequences. Once the virus gets into a dense area and carriers can not be effectively isolated the problem gets worse. The hospitals in NYC got overwhelmed. So did hospitals in Italy, The virus got into crowded areas in Italy and hospitals got overwhelmed.

    In less crowded areas social distancing mitigated the spread of the virus and kept the hospitals from being overwhelmed.

  9. @ Bear Klein: This is not even remotely as severe as Israel’s total lockdown. Like the Swedes, the Taiwanese have relied more on recommendations and advice from the government to control the spread of the virus than coersion.

    China had already banned most Chinese from visiting Taiwan in mid-2019, not because of coronavirus that had yet to be discovered, but for political reasons. Perhaps this ‘accidentally” gave the Taiwanese an advantage in fighting the virus. However, Taiwan has continued to permit flights from the u.S., Western Europe, Japan, and other countries impacted by the virus. That has not substantially increased their death rate. Their health ministry has publicly “boasted” that they have now gone several weeks with no new cases.

    New Zealand briefly ordered a shutdown. But it has now “declared victory” over coronavirus and reopened their economy, after suffering only a handful of deaths, and then going several weeks with none.

  10. Israeli example in Netivot how Israel acted effectively to mitigate spread of virus.

    Israel on Pesach (Passover) was enforcing a rule that only a nuclear family that lives together should have the Holiday Meal together.

    Netivot (an ultra-religious town) 2 families ignored the rule and had their Seder (holiday meal) together. One of the people at the Seder had the virus and spread it to the other 14 people. Who then infected a total of 80 people.

    Israel shutdown this little town completely then to stop the spread of the virus.
    Israeli tracking of how the virus spreads by the Shin Bet also effectively helped curtail this outbreak.

    Israel for the last several days has significant downward curve on infection levels and less severely sick COVID-19 patients. Hopefully opening up the economy and the schools will not change this. Half the patients who had the disease have recovered.

    https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/coronavirus-in-israel-latest-news-testing-infections-breaking-1.8792445

  11. @ Bear Klein:
    Do you mean it wasn’t because Shumer’s Jewish and Pelosi is Italian? What a relief!

    To be precise, COVID-19 hit hardest in:

    New York City 1481 deaths/ million
    Rockland Co., NY 1400
    Lombardy, Italy 1319
    Essex Co., NJ 1280
    San Marino 1208
    Nassau Co., NY 1194
    Union Co., NJ 1045
    Aosta Valley, Italy 1034
    Bergen Co., NJ 1025
    Hudson Co., NJ 995
    Westchester Co., NY 993
    Passaic Co., NJ 870
    Orange Co., NY 791
    Emilia-Romagna, Italy 751
    Suffolk Co., NY 741
    Morris Co., NJ 718
    Liguria, Italy 705

    Are all those places crowded?

  12. Sweden with a population similar to Israel had 10x times the amount of deaths compared to Israel.

    2100+ MORE PEOPLE DIED IN SWEDEN THAN IN ISRAEL

    2355 deaths in Sweden
    versus 208 in Israel.

    Death rate per million in Sweden is 233 per million in Sweden.

    Israel went very strict and proactive in Social Distancing and Sweden did not.
    24 deaths per Million in Israel.

    Yet those say Social Distancing is not helping save lives is using Sweden as an example for the good. In a past life they probably were snake oil salesmen.

    https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries

  13. @ Michael S:

    Japan is very crowded but it kept the disease mostly out. 385 deaths. 3 per million. About 100 in Tokyo population in city 8 million (37 million in Urban Area). If one has been there it is very crowded but so so clean compared to NYC.

    The people implemented social distancing voluntarily with suggestions and requests from officials. The population is very disciplined. Social pressure is enough to get most people to comply with the greater good behavior.

    Tokyo’s “Stay Home Week to Save Lives,” a rebranding of Golden Week, begins. The period will run through May 6.

    Contrast NYC disaster zone with more than 17,000+ deaths.

    The subways, the common entrance ways, the density, buses are all major factors in NYC problems. Plus the hospitals were overwhelmed early and De-Blasio resisted for several days the social distancing the governor wanted to do. It was too late then. Time allowing this virus spread clearly matters.

    The majority of the state’s cases are in New York City, but the downstate suburbs of Westchester and Nassau County are also major contributors to the total. Positive cases track only people with a positive COVID test result- because testing has been limited, the number of people actually sick with COVID is much higher- about 10X to 15X the positive cases, according to New York State’s first widespread antibody screenings.

    https://gothamist.com/news/coronavirus-statistics-tracking-epidemic-new-york

  14. @ Michael S:
    I have an answer coming it is in moderation.

    Part of it was , “Japan is very crowded but it kept the disease mostly out. 385 deaths. 3 per million. About 100 in Tokyo population in city 8 million (37 million in Urban Area). If one has been there it is very crowded but so so clean compared to NYC.”

    Contrast NYC disaster zone with more than 17,000+ deaths.

  15. @ Bear Klein:
    Hi, Bear. You said,

    “Sweden with a population similar to Israel had 10x times the amount of deaths compared to Israel.”

    Are Israeli Jews like Diaspora Jews? My mother-in-law said the West End of London was called “The Land of the Waving Palms”. On the other hand, Swedes, I will assure you, are not into hand-waving. Nor do I believe they are into kissing and hugging.

    Are Swedish figures skewed because of Islamic immigrants, like the Belgian statistics?

    OK. Rule out “Jewish”, because of Israel. Rule out “kissing and hugging” because of Sweden. Also rule out “densely packed”, because Sweden is far less densely packed than Israel. As it says in the OP,

    “No conclusions can be drawn about the states that sheltered quickly, because their death rates ran the full gamut, from 20 per million in Oregon to 360 in New York. This wide variation means that other variables—like population density or subway use—were more important.”

    If subway use and density were important, Tokyo would have been hit hard; and it wasn’t. Neither was Singapore, for that matter. Nor Guangzhou, China, which is much larger than New York. I did not get that from questionable Communist Chinese statistics, but from my own children.

    I brought up the “Jews and Italians” angle, because it refutes the “Blacks” and “minorities” slant the Dem-oniacs are trying to spread. Jewish and Italian NYC got hit FAR worse than Detroit and N’awlins, and over 80% Black Washington, DC.

    I certainly believe social distancing is valid, and my wife and I started practicing it days before we were ordered to. Other than that, I don’t think the statistics tell us anything consistently about spread and prevention methods.

  16. @ Bear Klein:
    Hi, Bear. We’re playing tag a little, but not much. You said,

    “…Tokyo population in city 8 million (37 million in Urban Area). If one has been there it is very crowded but so so clean compared to NYC… Contrast NYC disaster zone with more than 17,000+ deaths.”

    I made that remark concerning “crowding”; but even the “clean” aspect seems to have little bearing. The Chinese spit everywhere, poop in the streets and buy food from wet markets with animal guts on the ground; but when they go home to their pristine apartments, they take off their shoes before going through the door. Outside of Hubei, China was very lightly hit, believe it or not — which affirms your “clean” angle; but then look at India, which is filthy everywhere — and certainly crowded; yet per person, they were hardly scathed. Probably ditto for Africa; and Latin America had gotten by far better than us, despite crowded favelas and widespread poverty.

    I can tell you who got hit the hardest: It is the jet-setter businessmen, leaders and middle-class Western students, the class that rules the world; and the hardest-hit locations (New York, Milan, Brussels, etc.) are the merchants and power-brokers of the world. None of this had to do with distancing, cleanliness, crowding nor anything of the sort. It’s as though the virus were intentionally engineered and released in order to most effectively “strike a nerve center” in the modern world — either an EXTREMELY clever conspiracy or, more likely, a judgment from God.

    Of course, few will believe that. Instead, they see things like:

    https://static.westernjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Branco-Too-Far-Gone.jpg

  17. @ Michael S:
    Only thing I can think that in the NYC area there were a high amount of deaths in some Ultra-Orthodox communities who were slow to social distant.

    Density matters because once it gets into dense area things get bad fast.

    Places like Washington State and California got the virus very early but enacted social distancing that seemed to mitigate the virus.

    So it is not one factor only but a combination of factors that seems to make the problem worse or less bad.

    Blacks and Latinos are getting Covid-19 more and dying more. The also have population wise higher health problems such as obesity and diabetes in Blacks.

  18. @ Bear Klein:
    Hi, Bear

    What you said is true: many factors are at play. There is one set of cases that baffles me, though: The Chinese outside of Hubei — including my children in Guangdong and Buzz in Chongqing. We have eyewitnesses, that the virus did not spread much there, despite the fact that the greatest human migration in history (The Chinese New Year Holiday) was taking place in crowded trains across the country.

    How can you explain that? Chinese, East Asians and Westerners were taking the virus with them to Washington, France, Italy, Singapore,all over the world, in some cases seeding pandemics; but in China itself, there’s been very little spread. The govt. used draconian measures, but in late January — AFTER the great migration was in full swing, and WEEKS after it had already started spreading all over the world from Wuhan.

    I wouldn’t ascribe all that to misinformation, etc. Somehow, that virus was almost deliberately packed into the suitcases of those air travelers. There are a few things about this pandemic that are very fishy.

  19. @ Michael S:
    There are many many people including in the USA who have either zero symptoms or very mild symptoms. That undoubtedly also went on in China. So if there was not testing a cover up plus the mild or no symptoms.

    The Chinese who spread the disease where found to have the disease in the early cases I read about. I just think it was spread human to human unintentionally until I have presented hard evidence to me otherwise.

  20. Israel and the United States should learn from South Korea, which as everyone has pointed out, has done the best job of any free, domocratic country in dealing with the outbreak. Their measures to contain the virus have been touch, but much more selective and focused than Israel’s. As result of S. Korea’s tough but focused approach, the number of new infections has declined steadily over the past month, to the point where there have been almost none over the past week. There have been very few deaths per million people. A lower rate than Israel’s.

    Most restaurants, bars, theaters, shopping malls, etc. Some places of employment including factories, etc. remain open. There has been no general lockdown. People are permitted to drive from one city to another. One city was temporarily locked down in March, but the lockdown was lifted after a few weeks. Parks are also mainly open.

    On the other hand, the government has required nearly everyone to be tested for the SARS CoV-2 virus, either at home or at parking lots scattered all accross the country, and other testing stations. Most stores, bars, restaurants, and places of employment take people’s temperatures before they enter, and they are not allowed to enter if they have a fever. Everyone is required to wear a mask outdoors.

    Whoever tests positive for the novel coronavirus, whether at home or at a testing station, is required to enter a government run shelter for at least fourteen days. If they retest negative after that time period they are free to leave. If they still test positive, they must stay at the hotel until they test negative.

    If anyone has fever or symptoms, they must report to a hospital for testing. If their symtoms are light, they are sent home, but must report back regularly to the hospital entrance for further tests. If they exhibit severe symtoms, they are required to be admitted immediately to the hospital, and must stay there until they are better.

    Individuals who own their own homes, and are able to cook and clean for themselves, are permitted to self quarantine in their own houses. However, they must wear monitoring devices, and if they move more than a certain number of yards away from their house, they are required to go into a government quarantine center. They are also subject to fines or even criminal penalties, although in practice these have rarely been imposed.

    As a result, the South Koreans have contained the outbreak without destroying the economy, or interfering too much with the daily lives of healthy people in low-risk groups. Israel’s sledge-hammer extreme measures, like preventing everyone from moving even a few yards from their home and preventing gatherings of more than two people, are not likely to work as well as S. Korea’s focused approach.

  21. @ Bear Klein:
    You were of the opinion that NYC sheltered quickly. I am of the opposite opinion. The governor had wanted to and started it upstate by DeBlasio resisted for days until he finally relented by then it was too late and the virus had spread all over NYC and the hospitals were quickly over-run.

    Also with subways and buses and common entrance-ways in the high-rises social distancing was NOT really in-place. I saw pictures of packed subways after the social distancing was to have taken place. The subways also when sparse were taken over by the bums and homeless who spread the disease.

  22. South Korea had a social distancing plan that worked. It also extended it to keep it working.

    South Korea extends intensive social distancing to reach 50 daily coronavirus cases

    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea said on Saturday it will extend its intensive social distancing campaign scheduled to end on Monday by two weeks in a bid to curb the rate of coronavirus infections to around 50 a day.

    This week, the government has been gauging whether it should extend a 15-day intensive social distancing policy it implemented on March 21, under which high-risk facilities were urged to close and religious, sports and entertainment gatherings were banned.

    But it is “too early to be at ease,” Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said, citing a recent spike in imported cases and small cluster infections which also prompted the government to cancel the re-opening of schools next week.

    But there are signs that people restarted going out and socializing as fatigue about isolation grew and the weather improved, he said.

    “We are well aware that many citizens are feeling exhausted and lethargic under continued social distancing,” Park said. “But if we get loose, the strenuous efforts that the government and the people have made so far might come to nothing.”

  23. @ Bear Klein: Date of this report? My source (Wikipedia) indicates that most religious, sport and entertainment gatherings are now permitted.

  24. @ Michael S:
    “Jews and Italians” Maybe the virus has a genetic preference? Some geneticists say Jews and Italians are genetically similar to each other.

  25. @ Bear Klein: Bear, you said,
    “The Chinese who spread the disease where found to have the disease in the early cases I read about.”

    That means my family thhere might have the virus and not know it. God knows.

  26. @ Michael S:
    Correct many people have contacted the disease and had mild symptoms or none.

    One physician I know says his family was on a trip near Vancouver Canada in February and his children all had the classic mild symptoms of Covid-19 for several days. This is before it was common knowledge and in the early days of the virus in the US/Canada. He speculates that they all had it but were unaware of what they had.

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