Did the Lockdowns Save Thousands of Lives? A Soho Forum Debate

Physician Marty Makary vs. epidemiologist Knut Wittkowski on whether "the lockdown saved hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives."


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"The lockdown has saved hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives and spared American hospitals the horrors of rationing care."

That was the resolution of a public debate hosted via Zoom by the Soho Forum on Monday, June 1, 2020. It featured Marty Makary, a surgical oncologist at Johns Hopkins, and Knut Wittkowski, former head of the Department of Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Research Design at The Rockefeller University.

The Soho Forum typically hosts Oxford-style debates, in which a live audience votes before and after the event, and the debater who swayed the most people wins the contest. Because this debate took place over Zoom, we did things a little differently. The online audience was asked to vote before the debate. If you voted before the debate, please go to after you listen to the podcast and cast your final vote. But if you didn't register your initial vote before the debate started on Monday evening, your final vote won't be counted.

Arguing for the affirmative was Marty Makary, a surgical oncologist at Johns Hopkins and the author of the 2019 book The Price We Pay: What Broke American Health Care—and How to Fix It.

Knut Wittkowski argued for the negative. Wittkowski is the CEO of ASDERA LLC, a company discovering novel treatments for complex diseases from data of genome-wide association studies. Wittkowski also served for 20 years as head of the Department of Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Research Design at The Rockefeller University in New York City.

The Soho Forum, sponsored by the Reason Foundation, is a monthly debate series at the SubCulture Theater in Manhattan's East Village.

Update: Voting on this debate ended on Monday, June 8, 2020, at noon EST. Knut Wittkowski won by convincing 11.43 percent of the audience to change their minds. Marty Makary convinced 8.57 percent.

Produced by John Osterhoudt.
Photo: NYPD, Maria Khrenova/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Marty Makary, Keith Weller/Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 files; Rockefeller University, Ajay Suresh from New York, NY, USA / CC BY (; Oak Grove, Sean Meyers/ZUMA Press/Newscom; 6 Feet Sign, Mehmet Demirci/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Lockdown protest, Daniel Mears/TNS/Newscom; Delivery, Ron Adar/M10s/MEGA/Newscom; Circles, Narayan Maharjan/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Santa Monica store, Jason Ryan/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Times Square, Alcir N. da Silva/Polaris/Newscom; Empty Subway, William Volcov/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Empty Shelves, Joe Burbank/TNS/Newscom; Boarded Up Business, Karen Focht/ZUMA Press/Newscom

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  1. lmao this is a bullshit premise. there’s a reason we did this as a nation. Because it gave them all political cover. But you can look state do state the harshest lockdown state’s had the worst casualties so far by in large.

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  2. 1957, 80,000 dead from the flu, 1968, 100,000. No lockdowns and much smaller populations. If you were sick you and or the kids stayed home. Hell, I had the mumps, chicken pox, measles and German measles by the time I was 5. Grow some balls people.

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  3. Jesus Christ, of course the lockdowns saved hundreds of millions of lives, hiding in your house for several months so that you don’t come in contact with the coronavirus causes you to develop a natural immunity to the coronavirus. Once the coronavirus saw everybody was hiding safely from it, it just gave up and went away all on its own. It is now safe to emerge from your bubblewrap cocoon, the coronavirus is gone and even if it weren’t you now have immunity from it. We still don’t have a vaccine or a cure or even a proven effective treatment for the coronavirus, but we don’t need any of those things since the lockdown has already saved our lives from that deadly coronavirus. We could probably cure cancer, pulmonary disease and statistical ignorance in much the same way.

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  4. I think it’s possible the lockdown did save thousands of lives, but was still mostly unnecessary, at least in scope and duration.

  5. As we debate over the degrees of the failure of American government and how it trickled down from Trump to public health bureaucrat or county commissioner X, we are hiding from the glaring fact that we did and continue to do too little too late – a yuge failure that killed at least 100,000 of us.

    It did not have to happen!

    New Zealand Appears to Have Completely Eradicated Coronavirus

    1. “…As we debate over the degrees of the failure of American government and how it trickled down from Trump to public health bureaucrat or county commissioner X,..”

      You really are a pathetic piece of shit.
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      Fuck off and die.

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    2. If you read the article, they fully expect new cases to occur now that they’re returning to normal levels of activity. If it were “eradicated” that wouldn’t be the case.

      Also, good luck finding any significant number of people in this country who would back the level of border lockdown that NZ has done and will continue to do (absolutely no foreign persons allowed into the country, and all citizens re-entering quarantined for 2 weeks) for the forseeable future.

    1. The terrorists.

    2. Only the farmers won. We lost. We’ll always lose.

    3. The companies and stockholders that got $4 trillion of the money we worked for (and will for the rest of our lives). That is who won.

  6. “The lockdown has saved cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives and spared burdened the American hospitals economy with the horrors of rationing care.”

    Try that one next time.


    WHO says this morning asymptomatic transmission is unbelievably rare, which makes all the social distancing and the closures, and the masks, and the shortages, and the bailouts, and the “economic impact payments”, and the layoffs, and the arrests and all of the rest of the COVID-19 hype train completely…

    …and utterly…



    2. Like that’s going to stop the mask wearers. I see so many people wearing them outside and I don’t know if they think it’s spread by trees or what, but they obviously don’t put much stock in actual medical expertise

    3. WHO also said that the virus couldn’t be transmitted from person to person, and was fully contained in Wuhan. Not to mention that virtually all of the ongoing research and data collection in the world would seem to contradict their most recent interpretation.

      At this point, the main question that remains regarding WHO is whether they’re scientifically incompetent to the level that they could believe this, or if they’re deliberately trying to mislead the world at every step along the way. It’s enough to make me wonder whether the idea of de-funding/withrdrawing from WHO would even be controversial at this point if the idea weren’t coming from an individual who 30-40% of the U.S. population has a need to see as being criminally wrong about literally every word that’s ever uttered (I know at least 6-10 people who would probably order jugs of Flint, MI municipal tap water if the current president made a statement about consumption of lead being unhealthy).

  8. Lock downs didn’t magically make you resistant to the disease, folks.

    At best one could say they slowed the progression of the disease, but that everyone who would have ended up with the disease will inevitably get it one way or another. You’ve just ensured they get it a little later than otherwise.

    If we’re calling that ‘saving lives’ then the phrase has lost all meaning.

  9. “I know we have all got bored with it but 6,000 people have died from COVID already in June. This is more than the total U.S. deaths for all of March when the shutdowns started.” ~ Tim Miller

    1. So, almost 90,000 died in February?

    2. “I know we have all got bored with it but 6,000 people have died from COVID already in June. This is more than the total U.S. deaths for all of March when the shutdowns started.” ~ Tim Miller”

      It was Trump’s fault, right asshole?

      1. I know you MAGA types hate data and facts (and science), but the USA is something like #5 on the entire planet (over 100 countries) with per capital COVID deaths. This is mainly because the federal response was so weak by the Trump administration.

        So yes, of course it is largely Trump’s fault.

        1. Where did the largest majority of deaths occur? Who made made the policies that led to those deaths? Something about nursing homes….if I remember correctly. It wasn’t Trump that made nursing homes take in people with Covid. It wasn’t Trump that put in the policies where I live, it was the Gov. It wasn’t Trump that makes you where a mask when you go into Costco now, when, during the lock down you didn’t have to wear one.

        2. You have this ALL wrong. The reason the US shows such high numbers is because unlike in other countries with nationalized healthcare that have no incentive to overstate cases, US hospitals are financially incentivized to say a death was COVID. Thus, way more deaths here per capita. Not that the death count isn’t still virtually at zero for people not already on death’s door. It is not about politics, it’s about money.

  10. Yes of course the lockdowns were the smart thing to do at the time. It is basic science, it is basic risk/reward calculation.

    And of course the low IQ people cannot understand this. Pity them, don’t hate them. They are morons, but it isn’t their fault.

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    2. Were they really the “smart thing” to do? Evidence seems to suggest that no, they really were not the smart thing to do. Take care of those most at risk, yes, lock down everything no. Do not be a sheep!

    3. 66% of death were after lockdown by people sheltered in place. in other words they were already infected and it was too late. Shelter in place was wrong

  11. As was clearly showed, the lockdowns never stopped massive spread and in many areas herd immunity was reached based on how the spread reduced over time. You don’t have to do tests anymore even to understand why…the “why” is because many more people already had it than was realized.

    So logically the answer must be no…they didn’t save those kinds of numbers of “lives” even regarding the virus. AND since it is “lockdowns” being analyzed, all extraneous consequences must be considered in totalling how many “lives were saved” and those MUST include deaths not directly from the virus. So the correct answer is the lockdowns killed thousands…and possibly could manifest in the deaths of millions over time…as a result of the myriad of negative impacts the lockdowns caused on people in our society (just factoring in how many cancer patients WERN’T diagnosed in those three months BUT would have lived with earlier intervention would be tens of thousands). They presented a broad question, then only treated a narrowly defined part of it to get the result they wanted I guess.

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