Since the beginning of this pandemic, the 1889 Institute has argued against lockdowns even as “experts” advocated for them. Now, months after the weeks-long lockdowns were supposed to end, there are still states in various levels of lockdown. State and local governments have devastated their economies with shutdowns in the name of public health. Yet some politicians, including presidential candidate Joe Biden, have stated a willingness to lockdown the economy again on a national scale to eliminate COVID-19, in a “virus first, economy later” approach. Even as some lawmakers in Oklahoma urge governor Stitt to take more extreme action, it is essential to remember that lockdowns are not very effective.

A group of epidemiologists have released a declaration denoting the harmful effects of lockdowns. These include; lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings, and deteriorating mental health. These consequences are more harmful than the virus the lockdown was supposed to prevent in the first place. These experts call for allowing less vulnerable populations resume life as normal while shielding the vulnerable. This will build herd immunity, which will relatively quickly allow everyone to resume life as normal. While some “experts” have decried this approach as foolhardy and dangerous, evidence from Sweden and U.S. states like South Dakota suggests this is the best approach.

The World Health Organization’s special envoy on COVID-19, Dr. David Nabarro, also came out against lockdowns, urging world leaders to “Stop using lockdown as your primary control method.” Dr. Nabarro pointed to the devastating consequences of lockdowns, such as how it’s harmed tourism industries and small farmers. The economic consequences of the shutdowns have been severe. The World Bank estimates 100 million people have been thrown into extreme poverty due to coronavirus, marking the first global increase in extreme poverty in over two decades. As Dr. Nabarro said, “Remember, lockdowns have just one consequence that you must never ever belittle, and that is making poor people an awful lot poorer.”

According to a study by the American Institute for Economic Research, the states that have fared best with COVID are the ones that did not lockdown their citizens and allowed businesses to remain open. The states that inflicted draconian lockdown measures on their citizens, such as New York and Michigan, have the highest deaths per capita in the country. In fact, these pro-lockdown states implemented policies that not only failed to reduce the risk for citizens but lead to increased risks for the most vulnerable, such as mandating that nursing homes accept COVID-positive residents back from hospitals.  States that did not institute lockdowns are also doing better economically, boasting relatively low unemployment numbers while their pro-lockdown counterparts still struggled with high unemployment. In September, South Dakota had an unemployment rate of 4.1% while New York has an unemployment rate of 9.7%, and New York City has an unemployment rate of 14.1%.

Sweden is another example of how the coronavirus can be controlled without draconian lockdown measures. Compared to other European countries that did shutdown, Sweden has a lower mortality rate. Not only is their mortality rate lower than some, but life has continued as normal in Sweden. People still have the ability to work, they can go out and gather with friends and family, and students are able to go to school. Like South Dakota, Sweden trusted its citizens to make the best choices for themselves and their families.

With all this evidence, why are there still people advocating continued lockdowns? Most likely, politicians want a concrete action to point to and say, “Look I did something.” It gives them something to campaign on. Unfortunately, good politics does not always make good policy. Good policy would focus on protecting the most vulnerable, those over 70 or with comorbidities, while letting everyone else resume life as normal. The survival rates for people under 70; 0-19 is 99.997%, 20-49 is 99.98%, and 50-69 is 99.5%. 

Those advocating for continued lockdowns, whether at the state level or on a national scale, do so from a position of immense privilege, much like celebrities posting “we’re all in this together” videos from the comfort of their mansions. They don’t have to worry about the effects of shutdowns, like the loss of livelihoods and an inability to educate their children. They are not the ones who are at risk of sliding into extreme poverty. The choice between saving lives and saving the economy is a false one. States like South Dakota and countries like Sweden prove this. It is time for politicians to look at the actual data and realize that COVID fearmongering and economic shutdowns are not helpful and are, in fact, harmful to people.

Spencer Cadavero is a Research Associate at 1889 institute and can be reached at

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.