- On Oct. 6, 2020, an international group of scientists, doctors and other medical professionals issued a petition, The Great Barrington Declaration (GBD), challenging the wisdom of current restrictive public health strategies employed by governments for addressing COVID-19.
- The GBD signatories called for “focused protection” that commits resources to protecting vulnerable populations, allowing most people to return to normal life.
- The scientists and medical professionals signing the GBD point out that potential ramifications of current strategies include long-term mental health issues, worsening cardiovascular
disease and other pre-existing conditions, significant financial hardship and increased incidence of domestic partner and child abuse.
On Oct. 6, 2020, an international coalition of scientists, doctors and medical professionals created and signed a document they titled The Great Barrington Declaration (GBD), which was named for the Massachusetts town where organizers gathered and in which the petition was signed.1 By the end of October, the Declaration had already secured signatures from 10,233 scientists, 27,860 medical professionals and 504,875 concerned citizens.2
In the document, infectious disease epidemiologists and public health scientists from all over the world expressed their deep concern about the potential negative repercussions of lockdown measures imposed by governments in the wake of COVID-19 and called for a global policy change to what they call “focused protection.”
The Great Barrington Declaration Highlights Negative Effects of Lockdowns
The creators of the GBD3 maintain that “current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health,” including fewer healthcare screening visits, worse outcomes for cardiovascular disease and other pre-existing conditions, and serious effects on mental health. Stating that “vulnerability to death from COVID-19 is more than a thousand-fold higher in the old and infirm than the young” and further, that “for children, COVID-19 is less dangerous than many other harms, including influenza,” the authors recommend measures be put in place to protect vulnerable segments of society, while allowing all others to immediately return to normal life.
Specifically, they suggest that nursing home staff should be limited to those with acquired immunity, staff rotation should be minimized and all staff and visitors should be frequently tested. Groceries and other essentials should be delivered to elderly who live in the community and the vulnerable should interact with people outside whenever possible. For everyone else, the authors recommend that:
- schools and universities should immediately reopen for in-person
attendance, including all extracurricular activities;
- businesses and restaurants should open fully;
- art, music, sports and other group events should resume; and
- young low-risk adults should return to work instead of working from home.
Martin Kulldorff, PhD, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and one of the three initial signatories of the GBD said, “As a public-health scientist, it is stunning to see how focused people are on this one disease and on the short term.” He argues that public health policy must focus on health as a whole, including all diseases, and should take a long view rather than opting for a short-term solution.
Dr. Kulldorff also asserted his belief that even if we choose to focus on COVID-19 alone, the lockdowns and isolations do not make sense:
We sought to flatten the curve in the spring so as not to overload hospitals, and that succeeded in almost every country. But trying to suppress the disease with contact tracing, testing and isolation, together with severe lockdowns, is not going to solve the problem. It will just push things into the future.4
Pointing at Sweden—which did not impose strict lockdown measures for the past year—as an example of the economic and social benefits of a more relaxed approach to protective measures, he stressed that COVID-19 is much less serious than seasonal influenza for children. Breaking down statistics on Sweden’s 5,900 COVID-19 deaths as of Oct. 22, 2020, only two occurred in children under age 9, while 4,004 deaths were in people ages 80 and above.5
Others Argue That Lower Risk of COVID-19 Does Not Mean No Risk
Some argue that, while older people are more likely to experience severe symptoms or to die from COVID-19, children and young people are not immune to infection, even serious infection.6 The CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found that more than 20 percent of confirmed cases during the summer months occurred in people between 20 and 29 years of age. For the week of Sept. 28, the National Center for Health Statistics reported 1,800 COVID-19-related deaths in people under age 35, with 419 of those in young people under age 25. They also reported that 851 children under age 18 have been hospitalized with severe disease. Those numbers are updated every week and, as of Oct. 22, there have been 2,090 reported deaths involving COVID-19 in Americans under age 35, with 462 in individuals under age 25.7
Long-Term Damage Expected from COVID-19 Restrictions
Most experts agree that lockdowns are expected to have major long-term socio-economic consequences for populations. A U.N. report focusing on the impact on children and young people warned that, “All children, of all ages, and in all countries, are being affected, in particular by the socio-economic impacts and, in some cases, by mitigation measures that may inadvertently do more harm than good,” and, further, that “the impact will be life-long.” Analysis of data from more than 60 pre-existing, peer-reviewed studies indicated a strong association between loneliness and future mental health issues in young people, suggesting that the duration of loneliness had a greater impact than degree.8
Looking at current pandemic strategies, Dr. Kulldorff also pointed out that lockdown measures disproportionately affect the working class, who may not be able to work (restaurant staff for example, if their place of business is closed) or are unable to work or isolate at home (such as those in service industries). In this way, Kulldorff argues, we are effectively “throwing the working class under the bus,” while protecting the more privileged such as college students and business professionals who can more easily work from home.9
Mental Health and Economic Repercussions from COVID-19 Lockdowns
Decreases in preventive care and screening visits, increases in risk for mental health issues, significant financial losses and the potential collapse of many restaurants and small businesses that may be unable to rebound are not the only ramifications of isolation and lockdown policies. There also has been a sharp uptick in both the number and severity of incidents of intimate partner violence (IPV) during the pandemic compared to the three years prior, with increases in calls to domestic abuse helplines reported worldwide. 10
Some of the factors identified during COVID-19 lockdowns as potential stressors that could lead to increased domestic violence include socioeconomic instability, avoidance of healthcare facilities due to fear of catching the virus, lack of community support, increased substance abuse and more time spent at home with partners. 11
During this same period, the National Children’s Alliance (NCA), reporting for more than 900 children’s advocacy centers (CACs) across the U.S., says they have seen 21 percent fewer child abuse cases in this year, correlating to about 40,000 fewer children served compared to the same period last year. Child safety advocates attribute the change to an underreporting of abuse in the face of
COVID-19. As NCA Executive Director Teresa Huizar put it:
It really did exemplify our worst fears, which is that kids are home and that they were outside the view line in many cases of trusted adults and teachers and counselors and coaches and physicians―all the folks who normally are making reports as mandated reporters.12
In the words of Dr. Kulldorff in advocating for the GBD, the strategies to try to contain and combat COVID-19 have amounted to “a unique experiment, and it’s a terrible experiment… in a short time, we are throwing all the principles of public health out the window.”13 Those who have signed the GBD and others maintain that COVID-19 will always be with us and that we must use traditional, more balanced public health strategies, while adapting to living with the new coronavirus until populations acquire immunity and the disease becomes less virulent.
1 Great Barrington Declaration. Oct. 6, 2020.
2 Impelli M. More Than 10,000 Scientists Sign Barrington Declaration Petition Saying Current COVID Lockdowns are Producing Devastating Effects. Newsweek October 17, 2020.
3 See Footnote 1.
4 Myers F. ‘Lockdown Is A Terrible Experiment’. Spiked Oct. 9, 2020.
5 Number Of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Deaths In Sweden In 2020, By Age Groups. Statista Oct. 22, 2020.
6 Gupta S. 5 Common Coronavirus Misconceptions And The Science You Need To Know. CNN Sept. 28, 2020.
7 Weekly Updates by Select Demographic and Geographic Characteristics. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Oct. 21, 2020.
8 Children’s Loneliness In Lockdown Could Lead To Mental Health Pandemic. The Week June 1, 2020.
9 See Footnote 4.
10 Gosangi B, et al. Exacerbation of Physical Intimate Partner Violence during COVID-19 Lockdown. Radiology Aug. 13, 2020.
11 Khurana B, et al. Grim Findings on Partner Violence During the Pandemic. Medscape Oct. 16, 2020.
12 Miller H. Recorded Child Abuse Cases Plummet Amid COVID, Confirming Advocates ‘Worst Fears’. Huff Post Aug. 20, 2020.
13 See Footnote 4.