New thinking on COVID lockdowns: They’re overly blunt and costly

The experience of the past five months suggests the need for an alternative: Rather than lockdowns, using only those measures proven to maximize lives saved while minimizing economic and social disruption. “Emphasize the reopening of the highest economic benefit, lowest risk endeavors,” said Dr. Mina.

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Social distancing policies, for instance, can take into account widely varying risks by age. The virus is especially deadly for the elderly. Nursing homes account for 0.6% of the population but 45% of Covid fatalities, says the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, a free market think tank. Better isolating those residents would have saved many lives at little economic cost, it says.

By contrast, fewer children have died this year from Covid-19 than from flu. And studies in Sweden, where most schools stayed open, and the Netherlands, where they reopened in May, found teachers at no greater risk than the overall population. This suggests reopening schools outside of hot spots, with protective measures, shouldn’t worsen the epidemic, while alleviating the toll on working parents and on children.

If schools don’t reopen until next January, McKinsey & Co. estimates, low-income children will have lost a year of education, which it says translates into 4% lower lifetime earnings.

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