States that instituted stricter lockdown measures at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic did not have greater reductions in mortality—but did have increased unemployment and lower job growth, reports a study in the September Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
"This study failed to demonstrate statistically significant, beneficial effects of statewide lockdown measures in 2020, while also finding major adverse economic impacts," according to the report by Kurt T. Hegmann, MD, MPH, and colleagues of Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health, University of Utah, Salt Lake City.
The researchers examined each state's mortality rate in 2020, compared with the preceding 3 years. They then looked for associations between excess mortality and each state's degree of lockdown—based on an "openness score" reflecting factors such as stay-at-home orders, closing restaurants and gyms, and banning large gatherings. Relationships between openness scores and state unemployment rate and employment growth were assessed as well.
Excess mortality in the first year of the pandemic varied widely among states, ranging from a 9% decrease to a 46% increase. However, after adjustment for other characteristics—age, sex, race/ethnicity, and cardiovascular disease rates—excess mortality in 2020 was unrelated to state openness scores.
In contrast, openness scores were strongly associated with employment data. States with less-restrictive lockdown policies had lower unemployment and higher employment growth. The researchers note previous studies reporting that mortality rates increase with unemployment—"therefore, theoretical benefits from the potential for lessened COVID-19 transmission may be negated by the health effects of poorer economics."
Dr. Hegmann and colleagues believe their study has important policy implications as COVID-19 continues, as well as for future pandemics. "These results argue that (re)instituting any of the statewide public health lockdown measures for this pandemic are ill advised," the researchers conclude. The findings "also raise strong cautions regarding consideration of these measures for a future, similar aerosol-spread pandemic."
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