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COVID Restrictions and Lockdowns Failed

Brian Blase
President at Paragon Health Institute

Brian Blase, Ph.D., is the President of Paragon Health Institute. Brian was Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy at the White House’s National Economic Council (NEC) from 2017-2019, where he coordinated the development and execution of numerous health policies and advised the President, NEC director, and senior officials. After leaving the White House, Brian founded Blase Policy Strategies and serves as its CEO.

Last week marked the one-year anniversary of President Biden’s inauguration, prompting news and commentary about his administration’s handling of major issues, including the COVID pandemic. Coming on the heels of the Omicron variant and the challenges it created, the anniversary generated assessments of our nation’s COVID policies. 

The public health establishment is now acknowledging that most people will get COVID. Dr. Fauci said on January 12 that Omicron “will, ultimately, find just about everybody.” While vaccination provides protection from serious illness and death, so too does previous infection. In fact, a recent study finds that prior COVID infection was more protective than vaccination during the Delta wave. 

Looking back, the public health establishment has been too focused on the perceived benefits of government rules—such as economic lockdowns, school closings, and mask and vaccine mandates—without considering the costs and the harm to individuals and families. The results were misguided policies and real damage. 

Writing in The Wall Street Journal on January 20, Paragon Public Advisor and former Chairman of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers Tomas Philipson observed “the pandemic’s progression has made clear, public-health officials should aim to do more than merely minimize the spread of disease. They should seek to reduce the total harm caused by both infection and heavy-handed attempts to prevent it.

“Reducing the incidence of disease isn’t necessarily desirable if excessive prevention, in the form of lockdowns or school closures, is more costly to society than the damage done by an illness. We don’t close highways to minimize accidental deaths, despite the existence of dangerous drivers. Yet this is exactly what we’re doing when the government intervenes to limit the spread of communicable diseases by, for instance, mandating vaccines that don’t prevent transmission.”

Philipson wrote that “case counts don’t capture the total burden of a disease. The costs of efforts at avoiding the disease must be quantified and tallied as well.”

Those costs have been disproportionately borne by our nation’s children, and tragically, some school districts are reverting to the failed approach of virtual learning. Dr. Vinay Prasad, who has carefully reviewed evidence of government policies on COVID for nearly two years, calls this “a colossal domestic policy failure of unprecedented scope.”

Worse Economic Outcomes in States with More Restrictive COVID Policies

One clear cost from the government’s response has been the reduction in economic productivity and the work force. According to Joel Zinberg, Paragon’s Public Health & American Well-Being Initiative director, there are still 3.6 million, or 2.3 percent, fewer jobs than at the pre-pandemic peak. Zinberg found that states that were “wary of the economic and social costs of restrictive measures” and “largely moved away from lockdowns” fared much better economically than states that maintained more restrictive policies.

According to Zinberg, “Only four states—Utah, Idaho, Arizona, and Texas—have recovered all their jobs lost to the pandemic, with payrolls rising 3.9, 1.9, 0.2, and 0.2 percent respectively since February 2020. All four are Republican-led and imposed lenient COVID restrictions.

“Other states have not done as well. Jobs in New York, Michigan, and California—three states governed by Democrats and notorious for rigid and prolonged lockdowns—are still down 8, 4.7, and 4.7 percent, respectively, compared to February 2020.”

Improving the Public’s Confidence in Government COVID Policy 

Public confidence in the public health establishment has suffered, and the public is increasingly souring on the government’s covid response. According a CBS News YouGov poll reported on January 16, 57% of Americans find that public health officials’ information about COVID-19 has been confusing – up from 47% in October 2021. The poll also found that 64% of Americans believe the “U.S. dealing with coronavirus [is] going badly.”

Writing in City Journal on January 19, Dr. Prasad discussed examples of how “Throughout the pandemic, public-health officials have omitted uncomfortable truths, made misleading statements, and advanced demonstrably false assertions.”

Paragon Public Advisor and former White House official Doug Badger took specific aim at problems with the Centers for Disease Control in a piece in The Federalist on January 21. According to Badger, “Tens of millions of Americans who have relied on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advice on dealing with COVID-19 are now adrift,” their trust shattered by high infection rates, unsupported claims, and the politicization of the pandemic.

“While we can’t control the biological path of the pandemic, we can begin to address its cultural and political effects,” wrote Badger. “Those who have called attention to the chasm between the government’s COVID prescriptions and the evidence behind them should seek to heal the divisiveness. . .

“We should acknowledge the fears and frustrations of Americans on the far side of the cultural divide, tone down our rhetoric about theater and virtue-signaling, and seek to bridge the cultural and political chasm that the president seems determined to widen and perpetuate.”

Paragon Public Advisor Marty Makary Appointed to Key Health Position in Virginia

Finally, a well-deserved congratulations to Paragon Public Advisor Dr. Marty Makary, who has been selected by new Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin to lead his medical advisory team. 

A press release announcing the appointment said Youngkin will “receive frequent updates from his independent, objective medical advisory team, who are experts from the medical and public health community.”

Dr. Makary is an outstanding choice for this advisory position. In addition to being a Paragon public advisor, he is a professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins Carey School. He also has been elected to the National Academy of Medicine and is Editor-in-Chief of Medpage Today. 

Dr. Markary has been widely published on numerous health care topics. His recent articles are available on Paragon Health Institute’s website.

Recent Newsletters

Paragon Takes on Omicron and State Health Reform
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