Analysis: Population Density ‘More Important’ in Combating Coronavirus than Lockdowns 

Closed Chicago Theatre is seen in Chicago, Illinois, on March 21, 2020. - Almost one billion people were confined to their homes worldwide on March 21 as the global coronavirus death toll topped 12,000 and US states rolled out stay-at-home measures already imposed across swathes of Europe. More than a …
KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Population density has had a more significant impact on the novel coronavirus death rate in the United States than lockdown measures, an analysis found in an editorial published by the Wall Street Journal on Sunday revealed, echoing other assessments.

The assessment concluded that since there is “no correlation” between lockdowns and a drop in the coronavirus death rate, “many aspects of the U.S. shutdown were mistakes—ineffective but economically devastating.”

T.J. Rodgers, the founding CEO of Cypress Semiconductor Corporation, a manufacturing company, penned the Journal editorial published on Sunday. He wrote that he and two other entrepreneurs set out to find out how many fatalities linked to the coronavirus illness (COVID-19) resulted from delayed shutdown orders on a state-by-state basis.

They found that the “correlation coefficient” between per-capita death rates and population density was 44 percent versus just over five percent for shutdowns.

The five percent figure suggests “no correlation” between per-capita death rates and lockdowns, Rodgers said, later explaining:

We ran a simple one-variable correlation of deaths per million and days to shutdown, which ranged from minus-10 days (some states shut down before any sign of Covid-19) to 35 days for South Dakota, one of seven states with limited or no shutdown. The correlation coefficient was 5.5%—so low that the engineers I used to employ would have summarized it as “no correlation” and moved on to find the real cause of the problem. (The trendline sloped downward—states that delayed more tended to have lower death rates—but that’s also a meaningless result due to the low correlation coefficient.)

No conclusions can be drawn about the states that sheltered quickly, because their death rates ran the full gamut, from 20 per million in Oregon to 360 in New York. This wide variation means that other variables—like population density or subway use—were more important. Our correlation coefficient for per-capita death rates vs. the population density was 44%. That suggests New York City might have benefited from its shutdown—but blindly copying New York’s policies in places with low Covid-19 death rates, such as my native Wisconsin, doesn’t make sense.

In other words, a one-size-fits-all approach to combating the deadly and highly contagious disease will likely not work in the U.S., given the diverse population size of each state.

The coronavirus has affected each state differently.

U.S President Donald Trump’s administration has refused to implement a nationwide lockdown measure, leaving it up to each state to decide.

The result has been a patchwork of local and state ordinances that use some variation of a “stay at home” order that still allow non-essential workers to go out of their home for necessities such as groceries, medical assistance, or to get fresh air.

Several analyses, like the one published by Britain’s Spiked media outlet, have reached the conclusion that there is no empirical evidence to suggest that there is a relationship between lockdowns and a lower number of coronavirus fatalities.

Other media outlets, including that left-wing New York Times, have acknowledged that population density is a top contributor to the spread of the coronavirus.

Some studies have found that the coronavirus outbreak is more widespread but less deadly than initially predicted.

In April, the Economist magazine reported that the fact that the illness caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) has spread across the United States could be “good news.”

The magazine, which found that the coronavirus death rate is likely similar to the seasonal flu’s (0.1 percent), used graphs to suggest the faster the disease spreads and hits its peak, the fewer people will die. The situation depicted in the charts appears to be playing out in Sweden.

Although Sweden did not impose a mandatory lockdown, its capital Stockholm could still reach “herd immunity” within weeks, the country’s chief epidemiologist reportedly said last week.

Sweden opted for voluntary quarantine for most of the population while urging the most vulnerable (seniors), to shelter-in-place.

As opposed to most of the United States, the European country, with a population similar to that of the U.S. state of North Carolina, did not close down non-essential businesses like restaurants.

Rodgers noted:

How did the Swedes do? They suffered 80 deaths per million 21 days after crossing the 1 per million threshold level. With 10 million people, Sweden’s death rate‒without a shutdown and massive unemployment‒is lower than that of the seven hardest-hit U.S. states—Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Louisiana, Connecticut, Michigan, New Jersey and New York—all of which, except Louisiana, shut down in three days or less. Despite stories about high death rates, Sweden’s is in the middle of the pack in Europe, comparable to France; better than Italy, Spain, and the U.K.; and worse than Finland, Denmark, and Norway. Older people in care homes accounted for half of Sweden’s deaths.

Other assessments have suggested that lockdowns may be worse than the disease itself.

Last week, Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), warned that the economic impact of shutdowns might trigger suicides.

“If the coronavirus lockdown leads to a fall in GDP of more than 6.4 percent, more years of life will be lost due to recession than will be gained through beating the virus, a study suggests,” the Times of the U.K. reported in late March, echoing other articles.

The White House has released guidelines for reopening the United States’ economy, prompting several states and localities to take action.

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