Similarly, lockdowns, self-isolation and quarantines are remedies that have been around for as long as humans have been battling deadly viruses.
As the first wave of COVID-19 swept through the world, lockdowns followed in just about every jurisdiction. We’ve grappled with the easily-measured economic effects ever since and struggled with the less-tangible mental health aspects of isolation. In return, the virus has ebbed, almost in concert with the lockdowns.
But early in May, a professor of mathematics at the University of Edinburgh published a working paper that pointed out an odd trend in COVID-19 cases in the United Kingdom.
This has been known for some time but public health continues to adopt approaches that may or may not have worked 300 years ago, and appear not to be working today.
Other papers found mitigations, no matter how logical or intuitive they seem, do not appear to work, especially over time:
- What did the World Health Organization say in 2019 we should do in a pandemic? (2019) (we are doing many things they said 12 months ago we should never do)
- What if public health disease mitigation does not work or does not work well? (2006) (Researchers found most mitigation does not work, or work well or have no evidence to support their use)
This provides a unified explanation for why cases were declining in many areas before lock downs were put into effect, and why cases exploded months after face mask mandates went in to effect.
The logical answer is that the disease progresses on its own, in spite of, and not because of, our mitigation steps. Over the time dimension, most all places have the same outcome. But in the short term, we try to find patterns. For example, face masks were obviously the solution in Ottawa (science says!) as a study proved they reduced cases through August 15th. Too bad about September, October and November!
Because we like to find patterns, we draw short term correlations in our mind – yet over time, those correlations fall apart. The time dimension adds a degree of randomness. In the short term, “stuff works” – until it doesn’t. Over time, few of the measures seem to work and more and more studies are figuring this out. Studies have looked at lock down measures in several countries and concluded they had high costs and temporary benefits. The costs appear to have exceeded the benefits.
Some measures – such as lock ups -can work – but are known not to be sustainable and cause problems of their own. Other popular measures have never been shown to work, but we do them anyway. For example, travel restrictions, per several papers, work in the initial weeks when cases are low – and mostly for very isolated nations (especially islands). They do not work once the disease is already established within the population, nor they work for most porous borders. (As an aside, in Factfulness, the late Dr. Hans Rosling describes a public health incident where he incorrectly thought there was an infectious disease and issued a travel lock down. Many people could not comply and chartered a boat to avoid the roadblocks. A group of nearly two dozen subsequently drowned in a boating accident. And there was no infectious disease – turned out to be food poisoning issue.)
As the linked article notes, at the end of all this, most everything remains unknown – we don’t know how this disease (or other viruses) spread in spite of measures taken.
At this point, and in spite of hundreds of years of experience with these measures, public health continues doing the same things over and over and over again with the same outcomes each time.
I sense they know that these measure do not work or do not work well but want very much to be seen as “doing something”. We wish there was a magic bullet solution but there does not appear to be.