By David G. Bjornstrom

Do Shutdowns Save Lives?

May 20, 2020
Column: Catching Air
We have been “socially distanced” now for more than two months with widespread mandatory business closures. The purpose of this was to slow the spread of the Coronavirus, “flatten the curve” so that our hospitals will not be overwhelmed and possibly buy time for a vaccine to be developed.
 
The experts told us this was necessary to save thousands or even hundreds of thousands of lives, supposedly justifying unprecedented government control over our lives and forcing us to accept catastrophic damage to the economy in terms of lost jobs, business failures, potential economic collapse and endless government spending.
 
Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more evident that as a nation we simply panicked in shutting down the economy when we could have used a more targeted approach (as with past epidemics).
 
We could be quarantining just the sick and those with certain pre-existing medical conditions, perhaps including the elderly in nursing homes, which would allow our economy to continue functioning in spite of the disease. This would save the economy and avoid a host of health problems and loss of life now caused by the shutdown itself.
 

Increased poverty

 
According to a recent Columbia University study reported in the Washington Post, due to the shutdowns we may now expect a 30-50% increase in poverty in the U.S., hitting minority groups especially hard.
 
The so called health “experts” never really considered this mass poverty or its health consequences.
 
As described below, this increased poverty may result in more than 1,000,0000 deaths over the next decade, likely exceeding the number of lives actually saved by the shutdown.   
 
According to an article published in August 2011 by the American Journal of Public Health, funded by the National Institutes of Health, in year 2000 there were 291,000 deaths in the U.S. attributable to poverty and income inequality. Those deaths stem from numerous factors, including poor nutrition and housing, inadequate medical care, depression, increased drug and alcohol use, domestic issues and a myriad of other factors.
 
If we assume these deaths will increase 40% now due to the Covid-19 shutdowns (midway between the 30% to 50% predicted by the Columbia University study), we can expect an additional 116,400 per year poverty-related deaths in the U.S. for some time.

Nobody knows how long this increased poverty and resulting deaths from the Covid-19 recession will last, but according to a 2019 Congressional Research Service report titled “Trends in the U.S. Poverty Rate after Recessions,” after the 2007-09 “Great Recession” it took 4-6 years from the end of the recession before poverty rates began to meaningfully decline.

Based on this history, if the Covid-19 recession ends in two years, as many predict, the resulting poverty won’t start declining until six to eight years from now.
 
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that it took 11 years after the 2007-09 recession for poverty levels to return to pre-recession levels.
 
Therefore, if poverty resulting from the Covid-19 shutdown starts to decline in six to eight years but takes 11 years to fully subside, then we can reasonably multiply the 116,400 projected annual deaths by a mid-range factor of nine years, indicating a total of 1,047,600 deaths from the increased poverty triggered by the mandated Covid-19 shutdown. This on top of all the other hardships that go along with that poverty.
 
Of course, this isn’t all.
 

Homelessness

 
A recent study by Columbia University economics professor Brendan O’Flaherty predicts a 45% increase in U.S. homelessness due to economic disruptions from the shutdowns, likely to continue for many years. We know that homelessness is extremely damaging to a person’s health and life expectancy.
 

Suicides

 
Then there are suicides.
 
According to Oxford University research, suicide rates in the U.S., which already number close to 50,000 per year, are likely to increase 1% for every 1% increase in the unemployment rate. An estimated 10-20% increase in unemployment caused by the shutdowns could therefore trigger 5,000 to 10,000 additional suicides every year for many years into the future.
 
And this isn’t limited to the poor either. There is much more physical and emotional fallout from the indiscriminate shutdown of our society.
 

Other concerns

 
Additional misery and deaths will result from people delaying or missing important medical tests and health care during and after the immediate crises, increased domestic violence, stress and other factors that are hard to quantify but very real.
 
And then there is the unprecedented loss of our civil liberties and damage to our basic culture and quality of life from all the government overreach that likely won’t completely end once the crisis has “ended”.
 
These are just projections and estimates, but so were the deaths initially predicted to result from the disease; projections which supposedly justified the shutdown.
 

Time for rational thinking and common sense

 
We’ve already seen drastic corrections and reductions to the initial death rate projections by the experts. It is time for everyone to take a big step back and reassess the path we’re on, this time without the panic and taking a much broader view.
 
Let’s consider a more rational, less drastic approach that won’t destroy our country and won’t kill more people than the disease.
 
Let’s limit the quarantine to those who are actually sick or who have conditions making them especially vulnerable to the disease while letting the rest of us get back to our work and back to our lives.
 

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David G. Bjornstrom is a Santa Rosa, CA-based attorney at law with 36 years specializing in business, estate and tax law. He may be reached at David@CatholicBusinessJournal.biz

David G. Bjornstrom is a Santa Rosa, CA-based attorney at law with 36 years specializing in business, estate and tax law. He may be reached at... MORE »

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