In the past few weeks, there has been a slew of great news regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Daily new cases have dropped to the levels they were at before the massive second wave in the fall and winter. Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine was approved, boosting the already growing vaccination mission. According to President Biden, vaccines will be available to all adults who want one by the end of May.
Seemingly in response to this good news, many areas in the U.S. have eliminated or greatly reduced their efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Both Texas and Mississippi have ended their mask mandates and stopped all business closures. Even states like New York that issued relatively strict lockdown policies are starting to reopen indoor dining.
These kinds of actions, regardless of how close we are to recovery, still threaten lives. The CDC recently offered evidence to link both indoor dining and a lack of masks to an increase in case numbers. The recent reductions are only a return to the peak summer rates, and only about a sixth of Americans have received vaccines. The pandemic is still raging, despite however much people want to pretend it’s over.
The most common argument against retaining lockdown measures decries supposed terrible economic impacts with regards to small business closures. This kind of claim doesn’t acknowledge the true causes of the economic decline during the pandemic; it’s far more complicated than a direct consequence of lockdowns. Even a state like Arizona, governed by a Republican and which took a relaxed approach to lockdowns, still experienced the fourth highest rate of business closure in the nation.
For businesses like cinemas and restaurants, the crisis is one of demand, not one of lockdowns. People’s fear of the virus and lack of disposable income prevents them from supporting local businesses far more so than having to wear a mask. Even stimulus payments — as necessary as they are — generally lead to online goods buying from sites like Amazon, not local business support. COVID-19’s prime economic effect has been a massive transfer of wealth from smaller businesses to the largest international corporations. There is no solution within the confines of a free market that can eliminate the threat natural disasters like a pandemic bring.
Another common argument against lockdown measures claims that they are an infringement on individual liberty. This is, in part, hard to deny; they do strip individuals of their ability to go to restaurants and not wear a mask. However, individual rights should only be granted insofar as they don’t enable direct harm of others. Preventing thousands more from dying is more important than someone’s ability to go to a bar for the next two months.
I also don’t want to imply that lockdowns are the only component of a proper response to COVID-19. Congress has been too slow and in passing relief legislation through both administrations, and the relief that has been passed is sorely lacking in direct aid. When people need to go to work to pay rent and buy food, they are going to go to work. Widely available testing and diligent contact tracing have also given other nations great success in handling the virus.
America could certainly reach herd immunity within the next three to four months and justify significant easing of lockdowns. However, easing restrictions before we reach this point will only delay us from being able to safely reopen. I would much rather wait a few months for a safe and vaccinated reopening than create a third wave of COVID-19 right before the virus is defeated.