We ran but could not hide: U.S. deaths in 2020 were 16 percent higher than in 2019

TLDR: If we denied children a year of school and spent $trillions, shouldn’t we have something to show for that?

The CDC sped up its tally of deaths in 2020 and now says that American deaths in 2020 were 16 percent higher than in 2019 (CNBC). COVID-19 is now highlighted as the third leading cause of death. If we adjust for U.S. population growth (somewhat difficult to assess because of the undocumented), that’s perhaps a 15 percent higher death rate.

Considering the loss of a year of education for American children, the loss of liberty for American adults, and $trillions in tax dollars flushed down the toilet, this seems like a spectacular failure. While our state governors issued orders to residents and Americans waited for Dr. Fauci to tell them whether it was safe to roast a turkey, Sweden continued to live within its existing framework of laws and customs, e.g., sending children to school, adults to the gym and social life, etc. Swedes did not don the hijab of the Church of Shutdown for hours each day. Sweden ended up with 10 percent more deaths than in 2019 (Statista; note that 2019 seems to have been an unusually death-free year in Sweden and also that, due to population growth, the 2020 death rate was, in fact, lower than the death rate in 2010). Sweden also has a growing population, so a total higher than 10 percent might translate to a rate that is 9 percent higher.

Also from the CNBC article:

It typically takes researchers 11 months after the end of the calendar year to investigate “certain causes of death and to process and review data.” While the daily total Covid death figures reported by the CDC are timely, they can underestimate the actual number of deaths because of “incomplete or delayed reporting.”

For those who believe that humans are in charge of the coronavirus, I imagine that the take-away from these data will be to double down on shutdowns and masks. The assumption will be that, absent our heroic sacrifices, deaths in the U.S. would have been 300 percent higher in 2020 than in 2019, so holding the increase to only 16 percent demonstrates how effective shutdowns and masks are. That masked-and-locked California and wide-open Florida are right next to each other in states ranked by Covid-19 death rate (

) will not be cause to question the assumption that masks and lockdowns are highly effective. (Note that California’s COVID-19 death rate is substantially higher than Florida’s if you consider the over-65 population that is actually vulnerable to COVID-19. Florida has roughly 50% more seniors as a percentage of its population.)

Finally, let’s not forget that our 2020 aggregate deaths also include deaths caused by the shutdown, e.g., people who didn’t get the cardiology procedures that they would have had, extra drug overdoses, etc.

Readers who love masks and shutdowns: Given that deaths in 2020 were 16 percent higher than in 2019, how many American lives do you think were actually “saved” compared to if state governors and local government had done nothing (so we’d still have had Trump funding the vaccines, the CDC messing up initial testing, etc., but there would have been no shutdowns, no masks, and kids would have been in school; we still would have had media hysteria, so presumably a lot of the elderly/vulnerable and elite would have hidden in bunkers voluntarily). We’re fatter than the Swedes and COVID-19 loves to kill the fat, but plenty of Swedes are also overweight. (But don’t count the 20 lbs. that people gained during the year that their governors ordered them to spend next to the fridge!)


37 thoughts on “We ran but could not hide: U.S. deaths in 2020 were 16 percent higher than in 2019

  1. There are clearly economic, health and even mortality consequences of shutdowns, as Philip points out. But how does just wearing masks indoors have side-effects that hurt the economy or people’s health? Doing heavy exercise is not great wearing a mask, so there might be issues for exercise studios and jobs that require heavy exertion indoors. Presumably workplaces are already dealing with that somehow? Are there any other deleterious side-effects to wearing masks indoors?

    • You obviously love wearing your mask! On my most recent excursion to the local vaccine clinic, my 92-year-old passenger noted that she “hated” wearing “this damn mask.” Have you talked to any kids who are in in-person school and asked them how they like wearing a mask for 5+ hours?

    • I don’t like wearing a mask. I don’t like wearing shoes and a shirt in hot weather either, but various establishments won’t serve me unless I do, so I undergo the ordeal (not to mention the esthetic horror I would inflict on bystanders when shirtless at my age and fitness level)

      I wear a mask because in hopes that it lowers the rate of Covid-19 transmission and saves lives. I’m not sure that it does, I haven’t seen ironclad scientific proof one way or the other. But it seems reasonable that it might, so I do it willingly.

      Another reason that I wear a mask is that many people have anxiety about Covid-19, whether that is scientifically justified or not. Many people have completely irrational fears. I have a friend who gets a panic attacks when confronted by moths, for example. Despite the strong suspicion that there is no rational basis for her aversion to moths, I try to accommodate that when I’m with her.

    • Well, that’s great that you want to wear a mask because you hope it might help somehow. And that should be your right, of course, just as it would be your right to wear a hijab, a cross, or some other religious item. But if a principal goal of humans is to enjoy life, not merely to prolong it, ordering people to do something that you say you don’t like and that they likely also don’t enjoy (under penalty of fine and/or imprisonment) is a fairly high-cost intervention and the dramatically higher number of extra deaths in the mostly-masked U.S. compared to in mask-free Sweden suggests that nothing has been obtained in exchange for incurring this cost.

      (Given the high death rates in eager mask adopters such as Czech Republic, Slovenia, Peru, et al., I guess it is worth considering that mask-wearing actually increases the risk of COVID-19. Certainly that proved to be true of Islamic face covering and respiratory disease (see https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11515979/ : “Respiratory infections and asthma were significantly more common in veils users (p < 0.00001 and p < 0.0003, respectively).") And certainly it is consistent with what I observed here in Maskachusetts (folks with masks on ignore the 6' social distance rule to which they had previously adhered; the date of the mask order was the effective end of social distance in supermarkets, etc.).)

    • Patrick: That you would ask this question suggests to me that you don’t interact too much with children who are forced to wear masks in school nor people with jobs that require them to wear masks 6-8 hours/day. I’m the wrong person to ask, certainly, since I don’t have a job that requires me to wear a mask for multiple hours/day.

      I think your line of questioning is similar to what Andrew Cuomo was using on young females. You start with “Do you mind wearing a shirt all day?” and if the answer is “yes” then assert “So you shouldn’t mind breathing through three layers of fabric all day.” Cuomo would ask the young hotties, “Do you enjoy having sex with 25-year-old guys?” and then, when they said “yes, we enjoy our Tinderhood”, follow that up with “So you should also enjoy having sex with your 63-year-old boss.” (see https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/27/nyregion/cuomo-charlotte-bennett-sexual-harassment.html )

      (Separately, and as long as we’re talking about America’s greatest Covid politician, he seems to have decided that young women will be more likely to agree to have sex with him if they’re stoned: https://www.cnbc.com/2021/03/30/new-york-state-senate-passes-bill-to-legalize-recreational-weed.html )

    • Good point, I’m not in a position to have an opinion about wearing a mask all day at work, or dealing with small children either.

      However, my local taco stand requires me to wear a shirt, shoes, and a mask or no tacos! So I have to comply.

      Paradoxically, the no-shirt policy works against social distancing, at least in my case. I find people give me plenty of room when I’m not wearing one;)

    • Yes, a mask law is great for the folks who are locked down (with full pay) on their 8,000-square-foot suburban estates (see https://philip.greenspun.com/blog/2021/01/02/the-social-justice-of-coronashutdowns/ ). The elite can wear a mask for 15 minutes per week (one or two trips into CVS, let’s say), then righteously post on Facebook about doing his/her/zir/their share, and quietly blame the Latinx for spreading COVID-19 (see https://philip.greenspun.com/blog/2020/12/29/assumption-that-masks-are-effective-leads-to-conclusion-that-people-of-color-are-responsible-for-coronaplague/ ).

      For the elite, a mask law means a few minutes of inconvenience per day and some virtue points. But we’re still left with the question of how the U.S. ended up with a dramatically higher spike in death rate than mask-free Sweden suffered. Did we actually manage to kill more people via masks and shutdown (either from the invulnerability effect that caused people to abandon social distance or from enabling the virus to always find a naive population somewhere in the U.S. (see https://philip.greenspun.com/blog/2020/09/17/when-we-wear-masks-does-the-coronavirus-thank-us-for-our-service/ ))? Are we collectively in such terrible physical condition that we just needed a slight breeze to knock us over? Something else?

    • Jim: A failure for whom? Sweden has a lower death rate tagged to COVID-19 than more than 20 Church of Shutdown nations (see https://www.statista.com/statistics/1104709/coronavirus-deaths-worldwide-per-million-inhabitants/ ). I guess I could sit here in Maskachusetts (2X the death rate of Sweden) and declare that Sweden had failed in the Covid Olympics somehow, but Sweden said, back in March 2020, that they weren’t going to compete in the Covid Olympics. They had other goals, such as educating their children.

      Was Sweden a failure from the perspective of a 10-year-old child who enjoyed (mask-free) a full year of schooling, recess, and after-school play with classmates, all of which was denied to her counterpart in Los Angeles or New York City? I would say “no”.

      Was Sweden a failure from the perspective of a Swedish schoolteacher who had to go to work every day while her American counterpart was relaxing at home and getting paid in full? I would say “yes”. (Though no Swedish schoolteacher died of COVID-19 during the study periods that I’ve seen.)

    • I know that Sweden’s Covid policies were successful in killing 3 times as many more folks than Denmark, Norway and Finland combined, even though they had two-thirds the population of those countries.

    • Jim: In a response comment to https://philip.greenspun.com/blog/2021/01/15/the-more-that-you-sacrifice-in-the-covid-19-fight-the-more-you-believe-the-fight-was-worthwhile/, I wrote the following…

      https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/28/world/europe/sweden-coronavirus-herd-immunity.html is a good example of how Science v2020 can work. On April 28, the New York Times thought it made sense to compare Sweden to Ireland, Britain, and France:

      Sweden’s death rate of 22 per 100,000 people is the same as that of Ireland, which has earned accolades for its handling of the pandemic, and far better than in Britain or France.

      But with a few months of additional data, we simply assert that comparing Sweden to Ireland, Britain, or France is obviously ridiculous and the only natural comparisons are Finland and Norway (Laos and Cambodia would make the Swedes look even dumber for being heretics!).

      What if we followed Science v.2019 and stuck with the NYT’s original comparison set?


      shows that Sweden has a lower COVID-19-tagged death rate than the UK (“Britain”) and France (“Frogland”) and nearly double the death rate of Ireland.

    • Jim: If we did the same thing with states, now that all data are available, we could say that the Massachusetts policy was an obvious failure. The death rate in MA (249 per 100,000, higher than any country on Earth) is more than the death rates of VT (36), ME (55), and NH (91) added together.

      Back in March 2020 when Massachusetts was locked down and guided by scientifically informed leadership, it was common to predict that Massachusetts would end up with a far lower death rate than Florida’s (populated and led by Trump-supporting idiots). We certainly should have had a lower death rate from any virus that attacks the elderly, since only 14 percent of our population is over 65 (compare to 20 percent in Florida). Now that data are available and Florida is at 155 (62 percent of the MA death rate), it is plain to scientists that comparing MA to FL would be nonsensical.

    • Phil, you can twist it anyway you want, but Sweden’s own King has called their approach a failure. Sorry, but I have to believe he knows just a little bit more about it than you do.

    • Jim: I’ve no doubt that the 74-year-old https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_XVI_Gustaf is quite a bit sharper than some politicians whom American voters select. Wikipedia says “He also completed his academic studies in history, sociology, political science, tax law, and economics at Uppsala University and later economics at Stockholm University.” So from a coronascience perspective, he is as prepared as anyone quoted in the NYT.

      On the other hand, we have to circle back to my “Failure for whom?” question. King Carl Gustaf cycles among a set of mansions in a private jet (taxpayer-funded!). The ideal coronapolicy for him, a vulnerable 74-year-old, is going to be different than for a 10-year-old Swedish child who lives in an apartment with two siblings and two parents.

      Would it have been good for King Carl Gustaf if the Swedish government had locked the middle class citizens into their apartments and small houses for a year or two? It might have reduced his coronarisk and it wouldn’t have cost him anything so… YES. Just like my friend who lives in the $9.6 million 8000-square-foot house thinks shutdown is great. He didn’t lose one hour of pay. He actually made tons of money as his tech stocks appreciated. So maybe his personal risk was cut slightly as he roamed among his various rooms while waiting for his vaccine shot. Would an urban child of color whose school was closed in order to protect this suburban agree? I don’t expect so!

  2. Phil, it seems pretty obvious to me, having read what you have written on the virus for about a year now, that you have been right more than most anyone since day one, that none of these human interventions accomplish much of anything positive but lead to a lot of unhappiness and wasted time in that very limited time that we are alive — but no one really seems to care. My instinct is that the majority of Americans think that how the government has dealt with corona, fear and lockdowns and destructors of businesses, and masks and so on is a good idea. How do you think about that?

    • No one thinks that how the US has handled coronavirus was a good idea. The problem is that the country is split between people who think we should throw all caution to the wind and get rid of all rules and restrictions (which, to be clear, would lead to even more people dying, not fewer, and would not allow a return to “normal life” as long as private businesses were involved in the decision-making: many companies don’t want their employees coming to the office if some of them are going to catch COVID and die), and people who think the government should have been more aggressive, such as by enforcing stay-at-home orders for people who recently traveled between states, recently tested positive for COVID, or came into contact with someone else who recently tested positive, and attempting to pursue a Zero COVID strategy.

      Zero opens up a lot of possibilities. I’m in Taiwan right now where life is remarkably normal (although people still wear masks in places like shops and on public transit, to help try to contain any future outbreaks that may be sparked by imported cases). I regrettably lost hope that the US would ever pursue a Zero COVID strategy after Europe threw away all their hard work from their summer lockdowns and let cases get out of control again instead of driving them all the way to zero. I figured it was extremely unlikely we’d outperform Europe on non-pharmaceutical interventions.

    • Ryan: Why do you say that a “split between people” accounts for the U.S. COVID-19 death rate? I do think at this point the concept of “Americans” is more or less meaningless. There is no longer a common culture, a common language, or a common set of interests for the residents of the U.S. (see https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/09/trump-clinton-immigration-economy-unemployment-jobs-214216 for example, for how low-skill immigration has about $500 billion/year in benefits for upper-income Americans and results in $500 billion/year in losses for working class Americans)

      But the U.S. is not an outlier in


      and the countries with higher COVID-19 death rates were not previously cited as places where people disagree. In fact, you might have said that there was a large amount of social and cultural cohesiveness in Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Italy, for example.

      Similarly, states that have the highest death rates are not outliers in political division. If you look at


      you’ll see that NJ, NY, and MA occupy the top three spots. These are states in which nearly all voters agree that one party should rule (Democrats). We don’t see swing states having a higher death rate than these one-party states.

    • Jack: I’m sure that you’re correct that we have the government (including the lockdowns and mask orders) that the majority of us want (not the MD/PhDs and MDs who signed https://gbdeclaration.org/ obviously!). How did the government and media work together to convince Americans that these policies were and are good ideas? The core technique, I think, has been never revisiting what were previously sold as scientific predictions. A skeptical person would have to spend a lot of time with Google digging up old articles to see what was sold to them by public health officials, governors, scientists, etc. and compare to the outcome. Then you have the stuff that sold Jim, above. The NYT started out comparing Sweden to France, the UK, and Ireland, for example, and then, after all the data were available, started telling people that the only obvious comparison set is nearby Scandinavian nations (never mind that Sweden’s population, due to immigration, is radically different from those nations).

      But I don’t think it is unprecedented. With a little perspective we can see that our war in Vietnam was a monumentally bad idea. Yet at the beginning of 1967 only 32 percent of Americans thought that we’d made a mistake by sending troops there. https://ropercenter.cornell.edu/blog/creeping-doubt-public-support-vietnam-1967 (the Gulf of Tonkin fraud perpetrated on the American people was in 1964 and we could say that the direct involvement of U.S. troops started then). By the fall of 1968, a majority of Americans thought our entry into the war was a mistake, but even at the bitter end 40 percent of Americans still thought it was a good idea! https://news.gallup.com/poll/18097/iraq-versus-vietnam-comparison-public-opinion.aspx

    • Jack: Also check out Lord Palmerston’s comment on https://philip.greenspun.com/blog/2021/01/15/the-more-that-you-sacrifice-in-the-covid-19-fight-the-more-you-believe-the-fight-was-worthwhile/

      Gustave Le Bon offers an intriguing way of understanding Coronapanic: as a collective hallucination of “the crowd”. He offers numerous examples, such as:

      ‘The frigate, the Belle Poule, was cruising in the open sea for the purpose of finding the cruiser Le Berceau, from which she had been separated by a violent storm. It was broad daylight and in full sunshine. Suddenly the watch signalled a disabled vessel … and every one, officers and sailors, clearly perceived a raft covered with men towed by boats which were displaying signals of distress. … On nearing the object sighted, the sailors and officers on board the boat saw “masses of men in motion, stretching out their hands, and heard the dull and confused noise of a great number of voices.” When the object was reached those in the boat found themselves simply and solely in the presence of a few branches of trees covered with leaves that had been swept out from the neighbouring coast.’

      The perceptions of a crowd are highly unreliable: “The events with regard to which there exists the most doubt are certainly those which have been observed by the greatest number of persons.”

      The judgement of the crowd is emotional: “Crowds are only cognisant of simple and extreme sentiments; the opinions, ideas, and beliefs suggested to them are accepted or rejected as a whole, and considered as absolute truths or as not less absolute errors.”

      The obvious objection is that, in a world under lockdown, where is this crowd? Answer: on the Internet, as a phenomenon emerging from social networks. Coronaplague might be the first ever world-wide hallucination. So to answer your question, the sacrifice was worthwhile because the “crowd”, of which your friend is a part, demands that it is worthwhile and will not tolerate dissent. It would be interesting to see what correlation there is between the intensity of a person’s usage of social networking and the strength of his belief in Coronaplague.

      Le Bon is unlikely to be featured favorably in any mainstream outlet today. One more quote will show why: “…Among the special characteristics of crowds there are several – such as impulsiveness, irritability, incapacity to reason, the absence of judgement and of the critical spirit, the exaggeration of the sentiments, and others besides – which are almost always observed in beings belonging to inferior forms of evolution – in women, savages, and children, for instance.”

  3. PS — isn’t there some way you could set things up so that typos could be corrected within X min?

    • Jack: It is just a stock WordPress installation. I have looked into this and concluded that it isn’t possible.

  4. Ah yes, back again with your inexplicable hard-on with the church of Sweden! Post away, PhilG.

    • A true believer in the cult of covid. All the precautions didn’t change any outcomes because the whole pandemic is fake. Yeah I know refrigerator trucks full of bodies and mass graves in NYC parks…

    • GB: I would be interested to know what you think is fake! Do you think the 16 percent increase in deaths compared to 2019 is fake? Or that the 16 percent boost is accounted for by the effects of shutdown and other factors, e.g., 2019 being an unusually low-death year?

      (Also, how can “the whole pandemic is fake” be squared with reports from countries, such as Sweden, that are populated by people who are at least reasonably rational? The Swedes did report 0.13 percent of their population died with/of COVID-19 and estimated that only about half of those unfortunate folks would have died from some other cause in 2020.)

      If I didn’t have access to NPR, NYT, CNN, et al., I would still know about COVID-19 from my physician friends. A handful of them were involved in direct treatment of people who had trouble breathing (and putting them on the ventilators that we now know were mostly harmful). I would also know about it from a few friends who got ill from COVID-19 and had symptoms that they’d never had from other viruses, e.g., loss of taste and smell. I guess I don’t have personal knowledge of COVID-19 killing or seriously affecting anyone. I have heard people say “My mother in a nursing home died from COVID [here in Massachusetts]”, but the people making these statements didn’t have any personal knowledge of what had gone on. They’d just been told that a relative whom they couldn’t visit had died in a hospital that they couldn’t visit from COVID-19.

  5. “and the countries with higher COVID-19 death rates were not previously cited as places where people disagree. In fact, you might have said that there was a large amount of social and cultural cohesiveness in Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Italy, for example.”

    There you go making absurd false assumptions again. Let’s try to simplify things on your level… just because those countries were/are officially under extended lockdowns, it doesn’t mean people are actually going along with it. The lockdowns don’t work (any more) there simply because people have lost any trust in government (that would be tied to the huge disagreement part with all that entails and is entirely out of scope) and privately behave exactly the opposite. As do the government officials.

    It’s also pretty clear you haven’t spent much time in Sweden or Norway or Finland. Their comparisons are perfectly valid and it shows the difference between restrictions vs recommendations in an environment with much higher trust in government/institutions and similar cultural/social circumstances.

    In effect it’s then also perfectly valid to draw a comparison between Sweden (no lockdown but mostly following recommendations + culturally ingrained social distancing) and Czech republic, Slovenia, Italy… (lockdown that was eventually largely ignored for political/cultural reasons).

    So yes, you could claim that lockdowns mostly don’t work. But with the caveat that they don’t work when they are extended indefinitely for months in very unfavourable political and cultural circumstances. To claim they don’t work at all when properly managed/dosed is also clearly false.

    • Here we go: “So yes, you could claim that lockdowns mostly don’t work. But with the caveat that they don’t work when they are extended indefinitely for months in very unfavourable political and cultural circumstances. To claim they don’t work at all when properly managed/dosed is also clearly false.” While strengthening @philg claim it also implies that if proles were properly herded and husbanded Coronavirus and minor inconvenience of elections every 2 to 4 years would be history. It just ignores some small things how food, fuel and other services would be delivered. But it is wonder what mobile execution vans and pervasive every move tracking but our incompetent rulers could do!

  6. Sweden, Sweden, Sweden, always Sweden. Be a scientist, Phil, and cite more than one cherry-picked example. How’s it going in other countries that have taken a similarly do-nothing attitude towards COVID? How’s it going in Brazil, say?

  7. Phil please examine how it is that the CDC has reached a final number for 2020, when in other years the fully adjusted tally takes up to 18 months.

  8. Some people feel mask mandates are bad policy because they’re pointless and annoying. I’m convinced of something quite different, which is that mask mandates are bad policy because they increase COVID deaths. This is because masks have low efficacy [1] and encourage at-risk individuals to take risks they should not, because they think the mask is protecting them [2].

    [1] The low efficacy of masks was widely reported by science pre-May 2020. Both the CDC and the WHO discouraged the use of masks in the general public because they were not effective. But I think a more humorous example of the low efficacy of masks comes from the last couple months when Fauci started pushing “double masking.” My first thought was – doesn’t that mean that masks as we’ve been wearing them for the last 8 months don’t work well? It’s basically an admission that the guidance we had throughout the second half of 2020 (wearing a mask will protect you) was wrong, because if you really want protection, you need to wear two masks. In the latest Science, the CDC says that wearing a medical mask only blocks 56% of cough particles and you have to double mask if you want to increase that: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7007e1.htm?s_cid=mm7007e1_w . So yes, mask mandates are at most 56% effective at reducing the spread of coronavirus.

    [2] But any little bit helps, right? Wrong. People do not appreciate how little protection is provided by a 56% reduction in cough particles and think that if they wear a mask they’ll be safe. This encourages people who shouldn’t be taking risks to take them. It’s a modern day ghost shirt. Our host has described scientific studies showing that people stop social distancing once they have a mask on, but for this point I will turn to personal anecdote. I have a relative with multiple medical conditions that made her at a high risk for COVID. She stayed locked down initially, but then in the early summer when the mask mandates came out she started going out and doing things in the community. She’s extremely religious about mask wearing and enjoys ranting about states that don’t force people to wear masks. Imagine her surprise when despite wearing a mask she ended up hospitalized for a serious case of COVID. If she had appreciated that her mask did almost nothing, then knowing her high risk she probably would have reduced her community interactions and may have avoided hospitalization.

    • RS: You make an excellent second point. The folks who put so a lot of energy into encouraging mask-wearing and posting on Facebook rage against the folks whom they’ve seen with under-the-nose masks, etc., would be far better off staying home and letting the Latinx essential workers deliver what they need. If they’re concerned enough about Covid to post their concern on Facebook they shouldn’t be out of the house for any reason, yet instead they post photos of themselves in surgical masks and craft-made cloth masks. Somehow they’ve decided that this kind of mask will protect them in what they declare to be an unsafe world.

  9. Why is anyone still arguing that we should be wearing masks to protect OTHERS? Maybe this made sense when interposing a dirty handkerchief over your exhalations might have been justified as an expedient when no real masks were available.

    Now real N95 masks are available (and with vents, which makes them more comfortable, but doesn’t protect the OTHERS as much) why not tell people who are concerned to wear those and not be concerned about what the others are doing?

    • Mitch: That is a great point. Anyone can now get an N95 mask (don’t forget the surgical mask on top to comply with Dr. Fauci’s recommendation and also a clear plastic face shield to avoid exposure through the eyes). The world is a contaminated place. Folks who don’t want to be defiled by this contamination can easily protect themselves from it (N95+surgical+face shield). Why get into huge fights regarding what other people do, which at best can reduce the level of contamination by 50 percent (50 percent of unacceptable is still unacceptable)?

  10. Amazing discussion. Lots of interesting ideas and facts and arguments. Kudos to blog host.

  11. Are there significant cultural differences that make “unmasked Sweden” have lower case rates/deaths than “Maskachussetts”? Higher population density? Much greater “natural” social distancing (i.e. that’s just how Scandinavians have always behaved towards each other)? Does the US have a far greater dependency on cheap labour who don’t have the luxury as you say of locking down (e.g. a Swede does their own gardening vs an American who hires a gardener)?

    If on one extreme you are in a noisy pub with someone who is contagious with COVID, both of you are unmasked, and your friend is shouting in your face (because of the noise) for several hours, versus you never leave the house, SURELY one of those scenarios offers better chances of not contracting COVID than the other?

    Our family managed to stay free of COVID (by being very conscientious followers of all the lockdowns) until our primary school age girls returned to school in September, and in December all 4 of us caught it (my wife spent 3 weeks in ICU and almost died — she is in her 40s). I am convinced that one of our kids picked it up at school (she was the first to develop symptoms), so not sending kids to school surely does help to control spread (even though the kids hardly ever get sick themselves, they’re perfectly good spreaders!).

    It’s extremely frustrating to not be able to find any good correlation between what each different country does and how the virus behaves. But surely lockdown is better than no lockdown? I mean what alternative are you proposing?

    • John: Sorry to hear that your wife was in the ICU, but glad that she is out!

      “surely lockdown is better than no lockdown?” That’s the question explored by the original post. If we start from the assumption that the only goal of humans is staying alive (avoiding death) in the short term, the data from no-lockdown Sweden (10 percent more deaths in 2020 vs. 2019) and the locked-down-to-some-extent U.S. (16 percent more deaths) don’t suggest that lockdown is “better”. And that’s ignoring all of the longer term deaths that the U.S. will suffer as a result of its lockdown (from increased obesity, alcohol and drug consumption, and unemployment, reduced education and wealth, deferred cancer screening, and other factors that were previously non-controversial as being associated with shorter lives).

      The Swedish MD/PhDs said a year ago that a Chinese-style lockdown in China could be useful (and also that they’d need to keep redoing it periodically), but as I’ve said here previously, it is hard to see how it makes sense in the U.S. (tens of millions of undocumented immigrants and thousands more crossing the border daily). I don’t think that the Swedes expected Americans and Europeans to be willing to put their adult social and work lives on hold for more than a year, deny education to children for a year, stay in tiny apartments watching TV, cheerfully gaining 20 lbs. of weight ( https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/22/health/virus-weight-gain.html ), etc. So maybe if you’d said to the Swedish MD/PhDs “We have a population that is happy to stay home for 5 years so long as the checks keep rolling in, either from their elite jobs or the government” they would have given us a different answer. But the Swedish guess was that European and American lockdowns would be ineffective and so far it is difficult to find data that contradicts their guess (e.g., COVID-19-tagged death rate among various European countries, in California versus Florida, etc.).

      [The idea that Swedes are an alien species of “Scandinavian” is popular here in the U.S. as a way to explain the spectacular failure of the masked-and-locked COVID-on-the-mind states such as Massachusetts (2X the death rate of unmasked and unlocked Sweden, which did not even try to compete in the COVID Olympics). But 25 percent of the residents of Sweden were born in Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, or similar countries (or have two parents born outside of Sweden).)

      Circling back to your family, I think that your experience is precisely what the Swedish MD/PhDs predicted. Whatever measures were taken in the U.K. at best delayed your encounter with the coronavirus. Is an 8-month delay in encountering the virus worth spending a year or two in lockdown? That question can’t be answered unless we know an individual’s preferences and life situation (my lockdown-promoting friend in his 60s who gets paid without leaving the house and has a $9.6 million (Zillow) 8,000-square-foot house vs. the young post-doc whom I work with who is locked into her studio apartment).

      An example from yesterday of definite lockdown costs to the young/poor and potential/perceived benefits to the old/rich… https://www.reuters.com/article/health-coronavirus-belgium-party/update-1-police-disperse-thousands-at-belgian-april-fool-party-idUSL1N2LU1OV (18-year-olds gathering despite the old/rich people making it illegal for them to do so and the old/rich using “hundreds of police, many in riot gear and some on horseback” to impose their will on the young/poor)

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