Were lockdowns a mistake? To that nagging question, the answer increasingly seems to be yes.
Certainly, they were a novelty. As novelist Lionel Shriver writes, “We’ve never before responded to a contagion by closing down whole countries.” As I’ve noted, the 1957-58 Asian flu killed between 70,000 and 116,000 Americans, between 0.04 percent and 0.07 percent of the nation’s population. The 1968-70 Hong Kong flu killed about 100,000, 0.05 percent of the population.
The US coronavirus death toll of 186,000 is 0.055 percent of the current population. It will go higher, but it’s about the same magnitude as those two flus, and it has been less deadly to those under 65 than the flus were. Yet there were no statewide lockdowns; no massive school closings; no closings of office buildings and factories, restaurants and museums. No one considered shutting down Woodstock.
Why are attitudes so different today? Perhaps we have greater confidence in government’s effectiveness. If public policy can affect climate change, it can stamp out a virus.
Plus, we’re much more risk-averse. Children aren’t allowed to walk to school; jungle gyms have vanished from playgrounds; college students are shielded from microaggressions. We have a “safetyism mindset,” as Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff write in “The Coddling of the American Mind,” under which “many aspects of students’ lives needed to be carefully regulated by adults.”