Third, there are real social, economic, and public health costs to the lockdown. For some reason, a substantial number of Americans are pretending that COVID-19 is the only thing that kills people. This is false. The pandemic and lockdown have had an enormous impact on mental health, with researchers finding that 28% of people in 2020 screen positive for serious mental illness, compared to just 3.4% in 2018. Recessions and unemployment are also linked to suicide. Public health officials across the U.S. are noticing spikes in opioid overdoses. Poverty and stress, both of which will increase as unemployment rates skyrocket to Great Depression levels, have pernicious effects on public health.
None of this is meant to argue that every city and state should open up everything for business immediately. A cautious approach is warranted, particularly in dense urban areas like New York City. Temporary and well-defined social distancing policies (with explicit end dates) occasionally may need to be reimplemented. Those who are especially vulnerable, such as the elderly and people with underlying health conditions, may want to practice more restrictive social distancing.