Those damages would be dramatically more pronounced under mass lockdowns of cities or regions. Hourly wage earners would miss paychecks as businesses closed. People who rely on community programs and services would be left unsupported. Those with routine medical needs could be without access to necessary care. The impact would be akin to the disruption of a natural disaster that lasts for weeks and affects entire regions.

Beyond that, a cordon restricting the movement of Americans long accustomed to personal liberty would be likely to make such government interventions something to be feared and evaded, rather than measures taken to achieve shared goals. Having the public’s trust is essential in fighting a common threat.

Proponents of cordons point to emerging evidence suggesting that these cordons may have contributed to the slowing of coronavirus transmission in China, where heavily affected communities were locked down for weeks. But those cordons were combined with several other more classical mitigation efforts like those listed above. Measuring the relative contribution of each is all but impossible.