The science shows that restrictive economic lockdowns are not a panacea

Dec 21, 2020

A comparison among states shows that economic lockdowns impose widespread social, emotional, and financial harm but do not have a significant effect on COVID-19 infection rates.

By Mark Harmsworth, Director, Center for Small Business


Key Findings

1. States that have more restrictive lockdown rules for small business have similar or worse COVID-19 infection rates compared to states that have limited or no restrictions.

2. Common-sense recommendations on social distancing, wearing masks and frequent sanitization are as effective as mandated closure of businesses.

3. All states, irrespective of lockdown policy, have seen an increase in COVID-19 cases since October.

4. Washington, on average, is trending upwards in COVID-19 cases despite additional restrictions.

5. The data shows that infection rates are not significantly affected by strict, long-term lockdowns, while they do impose harmful mental health problems, increased social and family emotional stress and a strong negative economic impact on small business owners and working people.

6. With the right data and recommendations, business should be able to operate safely using reasonable precautions to reduce exposure to COVID-19.



The recent decision to extend COVID-19 business closures has left many small business owners, working families and customers wondering if further lockdowns are necessary given the lack of data that has been provided to justify the government’s actions.

Johns Hopkins University collects and publishes current research that shows COVID infection rates, testing levels, mortality rates and trends at the state and county level across the United States. At the same time, governors in different states have adopted different lockdown policies, with some states being far more restrictive than others.

By comparing data from states that have a severe lockdown policy with states that have limited restrictions only, a conclusion can be drawn showing whether state-wide economic lockdowns are effective at reducing infection rates.

This study presents a review of several states with varying levels of lockdown restrictions as a sample to determine whether a strict lockdown policy effectively reduces the spread of COVID-19, or whether governors should be considering other actions to help reduce COVID-19 infection rates.

Washington has one of the most restrictive lockdown policies in the country. The Johns Hopkins University data shows that the level of economic lockdown imposed on the people of a state had little or no effect on the transmission of COVID-19, while a policy of strict lockdown did impose widespread stress and economic harm among the population.

Read the full Policy Brief here