The deadly health impacts of prolonged lockdowns

Since the early days of the pandemic, we have noted that an economy seriously damaged by prolonged lockdowns would be very bad for public health. In our first Power Line VIP program following the lockdowns, Steve pointed to robust research regarding the adverse health effects of major economic downturns.

Since then, many others have made the same point. Even some liberals seem finally to be recognizing this reality.

Writing in the Washington Post, Secretary of HHS Alex Azar presents some of the most compelling data on the subject. Here are key excerpts

Estimates suggest that each one percentage point increase in the unemployment rate translates into a 1 percent increase in suicide deaths and a more than 3 percent increase in opioid deaths, which means this virus-induced recession will likely cause tens of thousands of excess deaths. One study of the 1982 recession found that Americans who faced higher unemployment suffered approximately 40,000 excess deaths by age 65 — as well as more divorces and having fewer children. Shortening this economic crisis through a safe reopening could save thousands of lives. . . .

The covid-19 response has also restricted access to health care. Data suggests the numbers of Americans receiving important preventive services are down significantly, with mammograms down 87 percent and colonoscopies down 90 percent.

More than 1.7 million new cancer cases are diagnosed per year in the United States. If we’re seeing an 80 percent drop in cancer cases identified, approximately, we could already have 200,000 or more undiagnosed cancer cases as a result.

According to Medicare data, breast cancer surgeries are down approximately two-thirds since January. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found that vaccine administrations were down approximately 60 percent from early January to mid-March; that puts millions of American infants and children at risk for serious illnesses.

Forgoing all of these services also devastates our health-care system and the front-line heroes who have kept it running. Many health-care workers have been furloughed, and hospitals are seeing as much as 60 percent revenue declines from the cancellation of elective procedures. Hospitals in rural America operate on about a 2 percent to 3 percent profit margin, and urban hospitals have about a 5 percent to 6 percent margin. Extended disruption to our health-care system may permanently close some institutions, with lasting impacts on access to care, especially where access is a challenge already.

Americans are rightly concerned about the risks of covid-19 — just as they’re frustrated about their inability to return to normal life. It’s because we care about Americans’ health and well-being above all that we have to safely reopen our country.

We cannot allow the virus to impose intolerable costs in terms of drug, suicide and alcohol deaths; forgone health care; and more lost jobs.

The title of Azar’s op-ed is “We have to reopen — for our health.” I think that’s right.

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