Will the US lockdown for the next pandemic?

After the very expensive and disruptive experience with lockdowns during COVID, will the US do it again for the next pandemic? Was it worth it?

Do what? The US barely did anything that qualified as a lockdown. Many people stayed home, but many people simply didn’t with no repercussions. Was what we did worth it? What is the ‘it’ that we did?

Even if you can disentangle all the chaotic approaches to ask something like, “was closing schools worth it?” that’s a very complicated question and is hard to answer now that we have the benefit of hindsight. We know far more about how COVID spreads than we did in early 2020. If we knew then what we know now we might have had a more coherent approach. We could say, for example, “Schools can be open so long as the air in the classroom is circulated through a HEPA filter every <5 minutes”.

But this would require rational people and when has that ever worked?


Also this.

During the last pandemic, some US churches preached that vaccinations were wrong and that their congregation should instead gather together and sing (the ideal way to spread the virus. :roll_eyes: )

No doubt this behaviour will be repeated.

Not the US as a whole, but in many states and cities, for a substantial period of time, restaurants, theaters, and other “non-essential” businesses were forced to shut down or seriously alter the way they conducted business.

I assume the OP is asking whether something like that would happen again. And I think the answer is: it depends. On how contigious this hypothetical “next pandemic” is, the method of spreading, the severity of illness it causes, etc.

To answer the OP, no, we won’t.

We ought to lock down almost as brutally as China, but we won’t.

I’m going to buck the trend and say “it depends”.

Don’t get me wrong, @tofor and the others are all absolutely correct, that for a pandemic at the levels of COVID (both theorized early on as well as how it evolved) it is extremely unlikely. And even if a lockdown was required, enforcement will almost certainly be just as lackluster.

But if we had something more serious? Say 10-20% lethality / major impairment? Or god forbid it has visible side effects or lesions and isn’t proactively linked to an ‘other’ group? We might get a more serious effort.

COVID is horrible, and the US citizens ability to do a rational risk/benefit analysis of even the most basic steps - masks / distancing / vax - is disheartening, but the deceptive mildness for most (not dismissing the tragedy for the few) combined with the political stupidity, prevented far, far too many from taking it seriously.

Compare to the more severe panic of the Ebola exposure in 2014 - things that are more deadly, more visually obvious, generate more fear.

Get something like that spreading, and sure, we might manage a real lockdown - but our … unique proclivity … to excessive individualism may well compromise it as well. The fact that a substantial portion of our population cannot see the ‘greater good’ past ‘individual risk to take’ is, frankly, terrifying.

And, combine that with the increasing distrust of scientists and experts (often among the same “but mah freedoms!” people), and even if the health crisis was alien chest-bursters, with a 100% mortality rate and an obvious transmission vector, we’d still have a large proportion of Americans who would insist it was either (a) a complete hoax, or (b) not that bad.

Which is funny… I live a couple of miles from where all that went down- both that guy’s apartment and Presbyterian Hospital, and there wasn’t really a whole lot of panic in our general area. Certainly some concern that he might have given it to someone who would then put it on a gas pump, etc… but not any sort of situation where anyone stayed home from school or work because of Ebola fears.

I tend to think that it’ll totally depend on the disease in question. COVID was sort of the perfect balance of not lethal enough to really scare a lot of people, and yet lethal enough to need to be taken seriously. That meant that it seemed rather overblown to a lot of people- you didn’t really hear of people you knew dying of it- maybe their parents or other elderly relatives who were already in bad shape, but very rarely people in their 30s, 40s and 50s. Someone dying of COVID in those age groups was about as anecdotally common as people dying in car wrecks. Not unheard of, but not common either.

That’s going to be the determinant I think- if we non-elderly adults start seeing peers die in numbers or we start seeing kids/teenagers die, we’ll lockdown for sure. But it’ll be after the fact, which isn’t nearly as helpful. I don’t foresee lockdowns without a significant number of deaths- people will rebel against that (because they’re stupid) and remember how awful the 2020 lockdowns were.

What honestly worries me more, is that with the example of our response to COVID, if we do get a more lethal pandemic with easy communicability in the future, we will be societally unable to take it seriously in time for lockdowns to be effective without draconian penalties.

Because no politicians will want to take the responsibility for an economic hit or the possibility of looking like a fool. And a huge segment will look at the risks and say “how bad can it be”? So even if it DOES happen, it will almost certainly be too little, too late.

Excuse me. Now I’m depressed. Again. I swear, if COVID was deadly to our pets, we’d have taken it more seriously than we did. Our empathy to our fellow man is seriously impaired compared to our selfishness and lavish care for those we define as our own.

It’s really surprising to me that you’d think that China has come out better at this point in the pandemic. Through 2020, and maybe even a bit into 2021 they were looking pretty good. But with Covid likely endemic worldwide, how costly in terms of human flourishing will a never ending Covid-0 policy like China’s be?

My prediction is that the next pandemic will result in fewer hard restrictions than Covid did, but plausibly better and more useful precautions by many people. Like, people who care about prevention will probably immediately go to masks for anything vaguely respiratory instead of wasting months sanitizing surfaces and putting up plexiglass screens.

Why? Once we had a handle on COVID, it was pretty easily manageable by just wearing the correct masks correctly and socially distancing. The lockdowns were only really useful when we didn’t have a handle on how lethal it was, how fast it spread, etc… i.e. early-mid 2020.

And at this point, so many people have either had it, been vaccinated, or both, that there’s no sense in locking down.

It’s about as sensible and useful at this point as having a never ending common cold-0 policy.

It’s endemic to the world, so the only way to keep it out of your country is to completely close the borders forever. At this point, between vaccines and it having seemed to have evolved into a less dangerous form, their anti-Covid measures are doing far more harm than good.

OTOH, to the OP, I agree with other posters on the “What lockdown?” point, especially a “US lockdown.” States more or less did their own thing, and only a few cities instituted a curfew that was anything like a lockdown.

Now, will we see businesses required to close? That depends on the nature of the disease and how it spreads, and once again, will be state by state, not a federal mandate. I think we may see an easier transition to social distancing and mask wearing (among those who didn’t consider it to be a violation of their freedumbs), probably a return to more part time in school instruction with some done at home to reduce class size, likely have restaurants go to outdoor or to-go service, and probably shut down most public events.

I realized that a more charitable reading of the comment I responded to is that we should have (and should in the future) locked down like China did initially, but should not be doing so now. Which I think I still disagree with, but it’s not an unreasonable position.

I agree that the US never really did anything like a lockdown. We never prevented individual movement the way Italy or China or some other countries did.

But we also did some really dumb and destructive things, like closing schools and making masking rules that don’t require good masks worn correctly, and weren’t enforced. I was even in favor of those particular dumb things initially, but they were in retrospect pretty bad.

It should come as no surprise that scientists are trying to quantify the effectiveness and value of measures taken during the pandemic. It should also come as no surprise that the current consensus is “it’s complicated”.

Here’s a nice summary of current studies and results from Nature: What scientists have learnt from COVID lockdowns (nature.com). As with all of Nature’s news articles, it is readable by the layperson, but has links to primary sources for those who want to dig into the actual studies.

Some excerpts that caught my eye (I’ve marked where I snipped content for brevity’s sake):

… by tracking the stringency and timing of government policies in more than 100 countries, researchers at the University of Oxford, UK, and their colleagues did find that the more stringent a nation’s containment policies, the more successful it was at averting deaths from COVID-19.

The group noted that some measures seemed effective according to one modelling approach, but not according to others, and that their effectiveness estimates came with wide uncertainty ranges. But the researchers were able to produce an overall ranking (see ‘How effective were COVID-19 interventions?’). The most effective measures were policies banning small gatherings and closing businesses and schools, closely followed by land-border restrictions and national lockdowns. Less-intrusive measures — such as government support for vulnerable populations, and risk-communication strategies — also had an impact. Airport health checks, however, had no discernible benefit.

The impacts of lockdowns also differed from one pandemic wave to the next (snip)…For example, several studies found that school closures during the first wave reduced the spread of COVID-19. Yet Bhatt’s analysis suggests that second-wave school closures had a much smaller effect. “We were surprised by that, to be honest,” he says.

MHO? It depends on what the pandemic is.

If it’s COVID or an especially deadly influenza, a la 1918 or 1968, probably not. If smallpox shows up again? Yes, and I would endorse it 100%.

Unfortunately, it does not weed out the morons fast enough.

Where lockdowns really benefitted everyone (and yes, I definitely acknowledge there were major downsides) was that it reduced the spread somewhat. I think catching the virus is likely inevitable for anyone who does not live as a complete hermit, but by slowing the spread:

  • Hospitals were not quite as badly overwhelmed as they might have been (and it was pretty bad as it was )

  • Isolation delayed illness in a lot of people who were able to benefit from developments in the meantime: better knowledge of how to treat it, vaccines, other medications.

The Chinese never entered a national lockdown as far as I am aware. It was always regional.

@Monty would know better.

The biggest problem was that mask-wearing was made into a statement of values/identity, and a large chunk of the population absolutely refused to wear them as a result, and local officials refused to enforce/pass mask laws with any teeth.

It was a breathtakingly cynical action on the part of one side of the political spectrum, and almost certainly resulted in the deaths of thousands, even if it did reinforce that socio-political identity.

The worst effect for it I suspect is that when the next disease like this hits, there will be enough people around that remember this time around, and they’ll obstruct whatever measures are proposed and taken to mitigate it.

Or, c) only affects homosexuals. Cite: Monkeypox.