Stanford University Professor of Medicine Jay Bhattacharya has been arguing for months that coronavirus lockdowns ultimately cause far more harm than good. As a co-author of the Great Barrington Declaration, he has been advocating an alternative to the public health establishment’s comprehensively restrictive COVID-19 mitigation policies — a strategy known as “focused protection,” which would instead tailor protective measures to the elderly and other high-risk groups while minimizing harm to the larger society by allowing those at lower risk to resume a semblance of their normal lives.
Now Bhattacharya and the other signatories to the declaration may have received some empirical support from an unlikely source — a little-remarked new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the very epicenter of the pro-lockdown public health establishment. While the study trumpets its findings of statistical correlations of mask mandates and in-person dining bans with better outcomes for coronavirus case rates and death rates, the positive effects reported were decidedly modest in scale.
Bhattacharya, who spoke with Just the News earlier this week, said that despite clear evidence that “lockdowns haven’t worked to stem the pandemic,” he sees a “strange desire to continue the lockdown,” especially in the upper echelons of the federal government.
In Bhattacharya’s view, Biden administration chief medical advisor Anthony Fauci and other top public health officials have failed to view the risks to a subset of the U.S. population in the indispensable context of risks to the larger population produced by drastic mitigation policies like socially and economically stultifying lockdowns that blanketed much of the country over the past year.
“Part of the problem for Dr. Fauci,” Bhattacharya said, “is that he is blind to the harms of the lockdown … He seems not to understand that the lockdown creates all kinds of physical problems, psychological problems, harms that I’ve never seen him talk about.”
Among the issues to which Bhattacharya alludes are rises in child abuse, depression, and divorce rates. Not to mention the large swaths of the American economy that have been decimated, and countless small businesses that will never reopen.
Many of the pandemic restrictions didn’t “actually have any effect on slowing the pandemic or protecting people,” Bhattacharya asserted. “They were just indiscriminate closures that essentially protected the ‘Zoom class’ — the people who could afford to stay at home — while exposing the working class, other poor people and the vulnerable.”
The U.S. should have targeted its mitigation efforts more precisely to protect the most vulnerable, primarily the elderly and those with certain underlying medical conditions, Bhattacharya argues. It was initially believed that “lockdowns would protect our older people,” he said, but it should have been apparent early on that “they didn’t.”
Beyond mask mandates (which he has previously said do not work to slow the spread of the disease) and restaurant closures, though, Bhattacharya says that the “single biggest problem” America is going to see as a result of a year of lockdowns “is the harm to children.”
“There’s one estimate that the closure of schools will cause almost five and a half million life years lost to our children,” he said. “That’s because, if you’re less well-educated, you live a less healthy life, you live a less long life, it has this ripple effect that lasts forever.”
According to Bhattacharya, the U.S. will likely have to come up with an entirely new set of policy solutions to counteract the setbacks that American schoolchildren have suffered over the past year — especially the disproportionately negative effects on children from middle class or lower-income homes.
“The inequality is mind-boggling,” Bhattacharya said. “If you’re richer, you can afford to send your kids to private schools, which tend to be open … but if you’re poor, or even if you’re just middle-class, and you send your kids to public schools, your kids have not been in school.”
The CDC study, released on March 5, found that mask mandates were associated with decreases in daily coronavirus case and death rates and that reopening of restaurants for in-person dining was associated with increases in daily coronavirus case and death rates.
Th size of these positive effects, however, was small — a finding which the study authors downplay in their summary. Mask mandates were associated with decreases in daily COVID case growth rates and daily death growth rates of just 1.8% and 1.9%, respectively, 81-100 days after mandate implementation. Reopening restaurants for in-person dining, meanwhile, was associated with increases in daily case and death growth rates of, respectively, 1.1% and 3% after 81-100 days.
The study used models that accounted for state mask mandates, the closures of restaurants and bars, and stay-at-home orders. It did not, however, account for any other form of coronavirus policy (including distancing orders and locality-specific orders), or other factors, including seasonal changes, and population structure.
“The study is flawed because it doesn’t account for seasonality, position along the epi curve, the age or morbidity structure of the population, or lots of other things,” wrote Robert Wright, of the American Institute for Economic Research, in an article for the think tank’s website. “Even with simplifying assumptions biasing the results in the desired direction, the difference the researchers find, even at the upper end of their estimate, is on the order of a few percent.”
Neither Fauci nor his office has responded to a request for comment for this article.