Virus Transmission Estimates Provide More Evidence That COVID-19 Lockdowns Are Overrated

Two models suggest that broad restrictions had less impact on the epidemic than commonly thought.


States began lifting their COVID-19 lockdowns more than a month ago, and so far the results have not been nearly as disastrous as many people predicted. By and large, according to estimates by two teams of researchers, virus transmission in Florida, Georgia, and Texas—three states with large populations that loosened their restrictions at the end of April—has either declined, stayed about the same, or risen slightly since then. Those numbers reinforce other evidence that broad business closure and stay-at-home orders deserve less credit for curtailing the epidemic than they commonly receive.

The two models estimate the reproductive number for the COVID-19 virus: the average number of people a carrier infects. A reproductive number higher than one indicates an ongoing epidemic. When the number falls below one, the epidemic is waning. The daily number of new cases can be expected to decline, and eventually so will the total number of active cases as previously infected people recover.

After Florida's lockdown was lifted, according to a model by researchers at the University of Utah, the reproductive number went up and down before rising to 1.29 as of May 29, compared to 0.98 on April 30. But in Texas, according to this model, the reproductive number fell from 1.13 on April 30 to 0.45 on May 28. In Georgia, the number barely changed during this period, remaining slightly below one.

A model by independent data scientist Youyang Gu is generally more pessimistic but probably more accurate, judging from its projections of COVID-19 deaths. The Gu model shows Florida's reproductive number rising from 0.97 on April 30 to 1.07 today. The picture is similar in Texas and Georgia, where the reproductive number rises from slightly below to slightly above one during the same period.

Concern is justified whenever the reproductive number rises above one. But with the exception of the University of Utah estimate for Florida, these numbers do not indicate that lifting the lockdowns had a big impact on virus transmission.

While the two models diverge in their estimates since April 30, they tell basically the same story about trends before these states closed "nonessential" businesses and told people to stay home except for officially approved purposes. In all three states, the models indicate, the reproductive number fell precipitously in March. Those downward trends began before the lockdown orders were issued.

Judging from the estimates in both models, statewide lockdowns had little or no perceptible impact on virus transmission in these states. And Oklahoma, which never imposed a lockdown, saw essentially the same drop in transmission around the same time. These estimates are consistent with cellphone and foot traffic data, which show that Americans were moving around less in response to the COVID-19 epidemic well before politicians made it mandatory.

None of this means that lockdowns were completely ineffectual. It is plausible that they had an impact on people who were not already taking precautions, which is consistent with the Gu model's post-lockdown estimates and the University of Utah's recent estimates for Florida. But voluntary changes in behavior are clearly more important than lockdown supporters typically imagine.

University of Hong Kong epidemiologists Dillon Adam and Benjamin Cowling, writing in The New York Times, note that a virus' reproductive number, which represents an average across all carriers, can be misleading, because "it doesn't convey the vast range between how much some infected people transmit the virus and how little others do." Their research in Hong Kong found that "just 20 percent of cases, all of them involving social gatherings, accounted for an astonishing 80 percent of transmissions." Another 10 percent of carriers "accounted for the remaining 20 percent of transmissions," meaning that 70 percent of people infected by the virus did not pass it on to anyone.

Other studies cited by Adam and Cowling confirm the outsized role played by "superspreaders," which is relevant in evaluating the cost-effectiveness of broad control measures. They recommend that policy makers focus on "stopping the superspreading" through social distancing guidelines and restrictions on large, crowded gatherings, especially indoors, rather than trying to regulate everyone's movements. They argue that the experience with COVID-19 in Hong Kong and Japan, neither of which imposed general lockdowns, suggests "the epidemic's growth can be controlled with tactics far less disruptive, socially and economically, than the extended lockdowns or other extreme forms of social distancing that much of the world has experienced over the past few months."

NEXT: Did COVID-19 Lockdown Orders Help Fuel Riots Nationwide?

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  1. Covid is overrated.

    1. Have you had the Shanghai Shivers yet?

      1. January. fucking hurt to be alive. then it didn’t.

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          1. fascinating hope your sheets are soft.

        2. I got sick last year around Christmas. I was hospitalized twice in January. It had nothing to do with the pandemic.

    2. You’re gonna summon JFree.

  2. It is plausible that they had an impact on people who were not already taking precautions

    No shit?

    1. Not really. Fifty percent of those hospitalized in New York were already staying home, and they caught it bad anyway. 83 percent weren’t working — retired or in too poor of health. A New York Post story which ran for a day and then was flushed down the memory hole. There was never any reason to lock down healthy working people.

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  3. I guess you didn’t the memo, covid is like so last week.

    1. our local county health tyrant was still issuing updated tremble in place orders, with pages and pages of “allowed” activities and allowed methods to participate in those allowed activities (going to church is okay, if it’s outdoors, or fewer than 10 people, and no one can sing). meanwhile the “protestors” are assembling in large groups and helping themselves to the contents of UPS trucks and stores that are only supposed to be open for curbside pickup.

  4. broad business closure and stay-at-home orders deserve less credit for curtailing the epidemic

    To be fair, they deserve lots of credit for destroying the economy and a large part of civil society.

    1. But the economy is “just money”, and we can borrow more from ourselves to pay back later, when we’re rich.

      1. It’s ok. Insurance will pay for it.

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  5. Paging Tony. Tony to the (properly sanitized) white courtesy phone.

    Tony, do you want to continue locking my kids up under house arrest, where all they can do is play minecraft and hide in their rooms, all to justify your completely unsupported fears?

    1. Don’t hand me that “white phone” shit, you just want me to have an abortion.

      1. It’s really the only sensible thing to do.

      2. Dude, no fair flaunting your drunkenness like that. And me with no alcohol in the house.

        Guess I picked the wrong day to stop sucking hand sanitizer right from the dispenser.

    2. Tony, do you want to continue locking my kids up under house arrest, where all they can do is play minecraft and hide in their rooms, all to justify your completely unsupported fears?

      That the least of what Tony wants to do with your kids.

      1. If they’re girls they’re probably safe.

  6. lmao. This was obvious to anyone with a brain who wasn’t blinded by hysterical group think. Even if this was as bad as they say and it never is you never ever ever try some unique/novel solution that has never been fucking tried and nuke the economy over it. This is the most hysterical bullshit I’ve ever seen and we don’t deserve to survive it as a civilization but luckily there aren’t isn’t a horde of barbarians at the gates.

    1. Yeah, luckily the barbarians had COVID and too many totalitarian instincts towards their own citizens too. See, globalization isn’t all bad.

  7. Now that the Italian doctors have claimed the virus is too weak to even measure now, the WHO has decided to attack them for upsetting their plans for forever lockdowns and mask and social distancing.

  8. I don’t get it. They finally ended the lockdown here yesterday. No shit yesterday. I still can’t get people to hang out. WTF is wrong with people? The weather has been awesome. Let’s grill, swill, and chill. Nope. Everyone’s scared. Fuck.

    1. Halitosis is a curse!

    2. I’ll hang out with you! As long as there’s beer to drink.

      I’ll even bring the meat. /checks highway off front yard for something fresh.

    3. I have friends who have been getting together, but while wearing masks and staying six feet apart. No thanks. I’ll see you all when you get over yourselves.

      1. This. Stick your elbows out to greet and I’m out.

    4. I don’t know. Get better friends? Everyone I hang out with has been just hanging out, pretty much all along.

    5. Still illegal to work across Washington.

  9. “the epidemic’s growth can be controlled with tactics far less disruptive, socially and economically, than the extended lockdowns or other extreme forms of social distancing that much of the world has experienced over the past few months.”

    Hope you didn’t go posting that shit on Twitter and Facebook, you’ll get banned for posting false information that conflicts with the officially-approved false information. We just can’t have people going around implying that the science isn’t settled and the experts don’t know everything, questioning authority shakes the very foundations of the Divine Right of Top Men to rule.

    1. Two California doctors posted real life statistics from their walk-in emergency care clinic on YouTube, showing the COVID-19 infection rate was much higher, and the infection fatality rate much lower than was commonly believed. Elon Musk even tweeted about it approvingly, after which YouTube removed it as “disinformation” because it wasn’t a peer-reviewed scientific study, even though it agree with all the peer-reviewed scientific studies published in California, Colorado, Florida, New York, Iceland and Germany.

      1. And professors at Oxford and Stanford and other universities around the world.

  10. Models are really good looking women.
    A bunch of numbers claiming to represent the future, based on a lot of political hype, are called propaganda.
    Goebbels is taking notes on how the C19 response was manipulated, saying, “damn, those guys are really good!”

    1. Models are really good looking women.
      Disappointed. Thought you were working up to some really cool simile, then nothin.

      1. Spend too long in isolation, your brain rots. You do what you can.

        1. You could follow Freddy’s fine example and stimulate bloodflow by jerking.

          1. Finally, someone gets me!

      2. usually they’re too thin though

      3. How about…”Models are really good-looking women. Scientific models are numbers projected into the future. The main difference is, you can fuck with those numbers.”

    2. “Models are really good looking women”

      Not since the early sixties. Since then, they’ve looked like 12 year old boys.

      1. Correction: *Angry* 12 year old boys.

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  11. Niklaus Mikaelson Wolf face @NikoAintShit
    My brother just quit the NYPD… salute to that King

    Niklaus Mikaelson Wolf face
    @NikoAintShit · Jun 1
    Replying to @NikoAintShit
    A life decision this is how this man ate for the past 18 years he left after high school and he called it quits all because of what just happened and it’s been eating away at him for years because of previous situations like this one yet and he was 2 years away from retirement

    Niklaus Mikaelson Wolf face @NikoAintShit · Jun 1
    He’s not starting a go fund me or anything like that but he does thank each and everyone of y’all for the words of encouragement

    Dude’s being held up as a hero for taking a stand against his own department and forfeiting his 20-year pension, but the cynical asshole in me can’t help wondering if he was so afraid of getting investigated that he decided to cut and run.

  12. Reason clearly wants to kill my grandmother. Remember,

    We’re all in this together™
    Flatten the curve™
    Stay home, save lives™
    The science™

    1. More like ‘Follow the science’ as in follow my nose! It always knows!

      Don’t forget ‘to not overwhelm the system’.

      Problem with that one is we overwhelmed everything else.

      1. No, no, no…you follow the data and the science. That data part is big.

        Just look at Phailing Phil Murphy, governor of NJ. He failed to follow the data and the science, forced nursing homes to take KungFlu patients. This GS reject managed to kill elderly nursing home patients with his bad decisions….that were in plain contravention of the data (and the science) available at the time.

        He parroted the ‘data and science’ meme like any good progressive. Yet when it came time to actually do that meaning follow the data and science….Phailing Phil phucked up. I have nothing but contempt for his ideology.

  13. Oklahoma never imposed a lockdown?

    I could’ve sworn I just lived through two months (approximately) with all the bars and restaurants closed by order of the authorities. As well as barber salons, massage parlours, tattoo parlours, and probably several other types of business I’m not aware of. How much more does the government have to close down for it to qualify as a ‘lockdown’?

    1. Same shit in Iowa. Everything was closed, Fauchi said on live TV it was “functionally equivalent” to a “shelter in place order”. And yet, Democrats like my state rep insisted that because it wasn’t called a “shelter in place order”, nothing was really shut down and infinity Iowans would surely die because science and experts.

  14. Step 1: predict millions of deaths if “something” isn’t done.
    Step 2: destroy your economy, people’s sense of self worth, and your tax base.
    Step 3: when the crisis is only five percent as bad as you predicted when you destroyed your economy, claim credit for saving 1.9 million lives and warn of thousands more who will die if you end the lockdown “too soon” or jump to the next “phase” “too fast”.
    Step 4: repeat in a year or two when the next new virus comes along.
    Step 3B: clamor for state and city bailouts to make up for the lost tax revenue from the lockdowns.

    1. Correction: repeat 2-3 months before the presidential election (for the fall flu season, of course).

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  16. I’m sorry, but this is model after model. Models are not data.
    Yes, the data we have is limited, but we can use actual measured infection rate and more accurately, measured death rates. We don’t need models upon models.

    1. Precisely.

    2. Unless they are the models mentioned above (Longtobefree’s definition), then it might make for a pretty good movie.

    3. Waitwaitwait…I LIKE “models on models”. I know it’s not a realistic depiction of “Sapphic love”, but still, uh…entertaining.

  17. Don’t forget….the Lancet study that hydroxyxholorquine doesn’t help…was utter bullshit. Not true in the slightest.

    1. I could be wrong but didn’t France use it?

      1. What a surprise that the rag that literally created the anti-vax movement can’t be trusted.

    2. No it was not bullshit. Not yet anyway.

      The database used is being questioned. There is a review underway. A newer prospective placebo controlled study was also just published in NEJM which did not demonstrate benefit for HCQ as prophylaxis against the COVID – 19 virus in high risk workers. It also has significant limitations in data collection.

      This is how medical science works. It is revised and questioned on a regular basis. There is also empirical treatment and diagnosis.

      Moms chicken soup on the other hand is proven to be of benefit in many ailments over centuries of experience.

      I know that this has become an emotional and political issue for many people. So far as I am concerned just put it on the shelf at the corner drug store and take all the HCQ and Zinc you wish.

      Look, one of the other drugs mentioned and looked at, Azythromycin has been used for undiagnosed upper respiratory infections for years. Guess what? Almost all of the patients got better.

      As has been explained here by some who are very good in statistics. The problem is you are looking at small numbers compared to the population. Thus your error rate is significant. In this case you are also looking at great difficulty in collecting data. This is compounded by pressure to “do something now”. People cannot take much more of this mask wearing lockdown.

  18. R0 is completely unreliable to make these broad projections. As many flawed assumptions go into them as did the Imperial Model

  19. Please don’t use Oklahoma as an example of a state that didn’t lock down. Maybe not officially, but businesses and schools still closed, municipalities shuttered playgrounds and parks and prohibited gatherings of 10 or more, and the Karen’s raged on Nextdoor, a Satanic app if ever I’ve seen one.

    Plus, the state is only just now entering phase three of opening up—which it would not have had to do if it hadn’t shut down. OR scared the shit out of people.

    In OKC, few bars and restaurants are open for dine-in, most small specialty boutiques and art galleries are curbside only, and one yoga studio that I know of requires their attendees to wear masks. In fact, mask wearers in general outnumber non-mask wearers 2-1, and the highways and major thruways in the city are empty first thing in the morning. By midday, everyone’s out of bed and headed to Walmart for lack of anything else to do and traffic is a bitch.

  20. *head explodes*

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  23. The death rate is a fact; anything beyond this is an inference.
    William Farr (1807 – 1883)

    If the incredibly stupid theory behind the lockdowns had any basis in reality. it would have produced a significant decline in the mortality rate on or before the 21st day of the lockdowns. Any medical professional who gave this any thought should have known somewhere around April 15 that this was useless and the extensions were just leftists trying to find new ways to exploit a make believe crisis,

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