As the dust settles from the COVID-19 pandemic and the fallout over lockdown policies becomes more pronounced, some lockdown proponents, such as New York University professor Scott Galloway, have conceded they were wrong for supporting lockdowns.
“The damage to kids of keeping them out of school longer was greater than the risk. But here’s the bottom line: Myself, our great people at the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], I'd like to think the governor, we were all operating with imperfect information, and we were doing our best,” he said, referring to then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“Let’s learn from it. Let’s hold each other accountable, but let’s bring a little bit of grace and forgiveness.”
Mr. Galloway isn’t the only one to acknowledge he was wrong for supporting lockdowns, especially for children. Meanwhile, some others aren’t as quick to blame “imperfect information” and plead for forgiveness.
So did Kevin Bass, a seventh-year medical student and researcher at a Texas medical school.
Both now say they were wrong because of “groupthink” and “fear-mongering” rather than imperfect information.
And both push back against Mr. Galloway’s notion that the powers that be were “doing [their] best.”
Fear and LockdownsOn March 16, 2020, the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team published modeling that showed that without lockdowns enforced for more than two-thirds of the time over two years, “there would be 510,000 deaths in Great Britain and 2.2 million deaths in the United States by mid-April, surpassing ICU demand by 30 times,” Dr. Joffe reported in his peer-reviewed paper “COVID-19: Rethinking the Lockdown Groupthink.”
The Imperial College estimated that there would be “7.0 billion infections and 40 million deaths” globally in the first year.
The result from that modeling was widespread fear, Dr. Joffe said, to which he wasn’t immune.
Consequently, he fully supported government-imposed lockdown measures at the beginning of the pandemic because he believed “lockdowns would reduce viral transmission and deaths, as famously, inaccurately, and tautologically modeled at Imperial College,” he told The Epoch Times.
Mr. Bass, who said that at the beginning of the pandemic he was a hard-core “Covidian” (someone who elevated COVID-19 prevention and mitigation almost to the level of a religion), said the Imperial College’s modeling highly influenced his initial support for lockdowns, as did reports from the World Health Organization (WHO).
“They said it kills 3.4 percent of the people it infects—that was the World Health Organization’s figure until early April—3.4 percent. That’s way too many people! That’s like one out of every 30 people is going to die,” Mr. Bass told The Epoch Times.
“And then we had these Imperial College London models which modeled how many deaths there would be due to the pandemic in different scenarios, whether mitigated or unmitigated, with no lockdowns or measures taken.
“There was essentially no other data. I think, because of the hysteria, the fear, the example of China perhaps, people had an excessive amount of confidence—scientists, social scientists—in the Imperial College of London models.”
Recognizing Groupthink“In the first few months of lockdown, I realized that my (and similarly trained medical colleagues’) expertise was poorly suited to give advice during a pandemic,” Dr. Joffe said.
He added that when he first saw the Imperial College’s modeling, he failed to note that “the high-risk groups were those aged 70 years and older (especially in long-term care), and those aged 60 to 69 with severe comorbidities.”
But that fact soon became apparent, and the infection fatality rate was more than 10 times lower than the reported case fatality rate.
“The modeling was flawed, and in general, modeling (forecasting) failed during the pandemic. This was because the models were based on flawed assumptions and non-transparent methods,” Dr. Joffe said.
“If you put in inaccurate assumptions (e.g., the infection fatality rate was way too high; the population was modeled as homogeneous, when in reality, it is highly heterogeneous in terms of risk and exposure; the outbreak was modeled as never-ending exponential increase, unlike any epidemic in history; the herd immunity threshold was assumed to be far too high; and more), the model will show what you want it to show.”
Dr. Joffe said that he also saw the effect of lockdowns on students at the university and came to recognize that his support of lockdowns was from a privileged position that “failed to recognize that loneliness, unemployment, and adverse childhood experiences are top risk factors for shortened lifespan, mental health problems, and chronic non-communicable diseases.”
Plus, he'd “failed to recognize that missing school will affect an entire generation with reduced social development, executive function (i.e., decision-making ability), earning potential, and future lifespan, and lead to marked increases in adverse mental health outcomes.”
In his conclusion, he wrote, “The economic recession, through austerity in government spending on the social determinants of health, can be expected to cause far more loss of life and wellbeing over the long-run than COVID-19 can.
“We must open up society to save many more lives than we can by attempting to avoid every case (or even most cases) of COVID-19. It is past time to take an effortful pause, calibrate our response to the true risk, make rational cost-benefit analyses of the trade-offs, and end the lockdown groupthink.”
For Mr. Bass, the road to rethinking his lockdown support was more circuitous.
He said that in early 2022, he was trying to find new topics to discuss in health and, as a popular figure on social media, was becoming more skeptical of “things in general.” Simultaneously, Mr. Bass realized his online audience was primarily peers, not the everyday person looking for health answers, so he decided to explore a “range of different issues.”
“Even though I was very, very closely following the science, I was reading papers super closely, super carefully, and knew what I was talking about, I got a lot of pushback from the very same community that I had been a part of which used to cheer me on about debunking misinformation,” Mr. Bass said.
“They started accusing me of misinformation! I started getting mobbed by my own team.”
The pushback forced Mr. Bass to recognize the tribalism within his community and that they weren’t following the facts, but instead following conventional thinking and so-called experts with the most prominent online platforms.
“Once I realized that, I started to see it in many different things, and I started questioning,” he said.
That questioning came to a head when, in 2022, Elon Musk bought Twitter, now called X, and posted his pronouns as “Prosecute/Fauci.”
“I retweeted that, or maybe even heightened, quote-tweeted that, like approvingly, and I just got dogpiled,” Mr. Bass said. “I was always a ‘Covidian.’ I always thought that we should have lockdowns, we should have mask mandates, and vaccine mandates, and I was very authoritarian.
“Looking back on it now, it’s embarrassing.”
During that time, he was also listening to other luminaries who questioned the government response, and that gave rise to his own questions.
“They were saying things about COVID, and I thought: ‘Well, that’s very interesting. Maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s important for us also to keep an open mind about critical perspectives.’ So, during this entire time, I was doubting and thinking about things,” Mr. Bass said.
“And it became obvious that this whole zero-COVID narrative ... was [expletive]. Like we weren’t ever going to control COVID, and it just became obvious that lockdowns, in general, were a pipe dream, a fantasy. And to the extent that they could, you'd end up with a totalitarian nightmare.”
Avoidable MistakesDr. Joffe said, “Governments put the wrong people in charge of advising and managing the public emergency of the pandemic.
“The public health medical officers were not trained nor experienced in managing a public emergency. The medical expert groups also were not trained nor experienced in managing a public emergency. All were susceptible to groupthink.”
Instead, governments controlled the response and focused only on goals such as “flattening the curve” and “protecting the health care system” and failed to calculate the effects that lockdowns would have on society against their true efficacy.
“A common mistake was to consider correlation as causation—meaning, when lockdowns were implemented, cases and hospitalizations sometimes decreased, and this was incorrectly interpreted as lockdown efficacy,” Dr. Joffe said.
“The problem was, this was not due to causation ... it was clear that regardless of lockdown, the trajectories of the pandemic were the same.”
Mr. Bass agreed.
“When the pandemic started, I was very aware of the downsides of this ideology, but still, I went along with it,” he said. “My ultimate belief—and I think many people shared this—was that every human life is precious. I mean, nobody can argue with that, right?
“We thought, basically: ‘Yes, we might have some economic devastation for a short period. Or yes, there might be some inconvenience,’ as Fauci used to put it whenever he dealt with lockdown protesters or international leaders. But nonetheless, like these inconveniences, these slight mild economic recessions, they might not be all bad, and we'll rebound, was a thing we told ourselves. And so, we had this overwhelming focus on the positives.”
Still, Mr. Bass said experts were cautioning about lockdowns right from the start.
‘Doing Their Best’Dr. Joffe and Mr. Bass argue that Mr. Galloway’s statement—that he and others like him were “doing [their] best”—is inaccurate at best.
“The job of those leaders implementing potentially harmful interventions for pandemic management entailed knowing as much as possible, including weighing predictable harms and benefits,” Dr. Joffe said.
Dr. Joffe said experts knew at the beginning of the pandemic that lockdowns have “predictable immense collateral damage with unclear efficacy,” that community masking didn’t work, and that children weren’t at “significant risk” but older and high-risk groups were.
“I do not think [Mr. Galloway’s statement] is correct,” he said.
“It’s a crazy statement,” Mr. Bass said. “There was no hard data proving lockdowns work. The leading critic was in Sweden, Anders Tegnell, who did the Swedish response, and he was very outspoken that the modeling wasn’t very good and was not a good guide. He said we should use hard data because if we use models, hypotheses, and plausible scenarios, we can end up with nasty stuff happening because that’s what happens in the history of medicine.”
Mr. Bass added that one of the reasons so-called experts gave for lockdowns was the asymptomatic spread of COVID-19.
Better Next Time?By the end of 2023, COVID-19 will have cost the U.S. economy $14 trillion, the University of Southern California’s Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics reports.
“Workplace absences, and sales lost due to the cessation of brick-and-mortar retail shopping, air travel, and public gatherings, contributed the most” to the price tag, the center states.
“The pandemic has affected the public’s mental health and wellbeing in a variety of ways, including through isolation and loneliness, job loss and financial instability, and illness and grief,” the foundation stated.
“The pandemic has coincided with an increase in substance use and increased death rates due to substances. ... The overall drug overdose death rate rose by 50 percent during the pandemic.”
Moreover, a peer-reviewed report in Nature states that a systematic review and meta-analysis on the effects on learning during the COVID-19 lockdowns revealed a “substantial overall learning deficit” leading to a loss of 35 percent of the typical learning in a school year.
“The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has led to one of the largest disruptions to learning in history. To a large extent, this is due to school closures, which are estimated to have affected 95 percent of the world’s student population,” study authors Bastian A. Betthäuser, an assistant professor at the Centre for Research on Social Inequalities, and Anders Bach-Mortensen, a senior postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford, wrote.
“Lockdowns have restricted children’s movement and their ability to play, meet other children, and engage in extracurricular activities. Children’s wellbeing and family relationships have also suffered due to economic uncertainties and conflicting demands of work, care and learning.”
When asked what he hopes the scientific community learned from the government response to COVID-19, Dr. Joffe said: “There is so much. What I have learned may be more appropriate to comment upon. One, medical and public health so-called ‘experts’ were not trained to manage a public emergency. Rediscovering the emergency management process was my greatest lesson.
“If this had been used, lockdowns, mandates, fear, and collateral damage could have been avoided with far better outcomes for population wellbeing,” he said.
“Two, it was alarming to me how susceptible society, leaders, and medical professionals were to groupthink and mass formation. Fear is a powerful emotion that interrupts clear thinking and decision-making. Formation of crowd mentality is a scary phenomenon.
“Three, censorship and denigration of alternative evidence-based perspectives is against the scientific method and have stained the reputability of institutions during this pandemic. It will take work to earn back trust.”
Mr. Bass said he isn’t sure the scientific community learned anything at all.
“Everything was wrong. I mean, they literally got almost everything wrong. The whole institutional solutions need to be reformed,” he said.
“If you’re systematically making errors in one direction, it’s not random, right? So, you have to prevent whatever is causing that sort of bias. It’s not enough to say the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] should do something different. The CDC should be something different.”