As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise across the United States, speculation is mounting over whether the nation may face a new round of lockdowns after Jan. 20, 2021.
Presumptive President-elect Joe Biden has created a “Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board” that will map out his administration’s strategy to address the coronavirus, including “clear and detailed” guidance to businesses and schools that want to reopen. Although the board has thus far avoided mentioning lockdowns, at least two of its high-profile members have been outspoken in their support for nationwide mandates that would have people sheltering in place while sharply curtailing many forms of economic activity.
“As Comprehensive and Strict as Possible”
On November 11, board member Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said the country was about to enter “COVID hell” and called for a nationwide four-to-six-week lockdown.
Osterholm acknowledged that lockdowns haven’t worked before but told CNBC that’s because lockdowns were “not uniformly stringent across the country …the lockdown has to be as comprehensive and strict as possible.”
“We could pay for a package right now to cover all the wages, lost wages for individual workers for losses to small companies and to medium-sized companies, or city, state, county governments,” Osterholm explained to Yahoo Finance. “We could do all of that. If we did that, then we could lockdown for four to six weeks.”
Osterholm is joined in his views by fellow board member Ezekiel Emmanuel, M.D., an oncologist who was a health care adviser to the Obama administration. On June 30, Emmanuel told MSNBC, “You have to actually have people at home, close non-essential businesses, stop bars, stop indoor dining, have everyone wearing masks. These are the things we need to do. And, by the way, just doing it in isolated places is not going to solve it either. You need to do it nationwide.”
Schools are also in Emmanuel’s crosshairs. On July 30, he wrote in the New York Times that “schools should open only in places that have fewer than 75 confirmed cases per 100,000 people cumulatively over the previous seven days, and that has a test positivity of less than five percent.”
Emmanuel is also noted for an October 2014 article he wrote in The Atlantic, entitled “Why I Hope to Die at 75.” The article describes how “frailty is the ultimate tragedy,” and how extreme approaches to save a life can leave people feeble. On a Covid panel, Emmanuel would be making decisions on treatment approaches for the elderly and people with a severe disability.
Not all members of the Biden panel agree with broad-based lockdowns. Former Surgeon General of the United States, Vivek Murthy, M.D., told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on November 13 that the United States needed “targeted” restrictions to contain the virus, not a nationwide lockdown.
“We’re not in a place where we’re saying shut the whole country down,” Murthy said.
More Harm than Benefit
Managing the virus takes a multi-pronged approach, says Jane Orient, M.D., executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons and policy advisor to The Heartland Institute, which co-publishes Health Care News.
“Restrictive public health measures are causing much harm, and greatly exceeding benefit,” Orient said. “We should be investing in engineering measures for air purification and cleaning, early detection of illnesses (such as breath tests for nitric oxide), encouraging better health habits and nutrition (obesity is a huge risk), and promoting research not controlled by Big Pharma, instead of crushing the economy and the freedom to innovate.”
Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D., (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.