Study: Thousands of Lives Could’ve Been Saved Had U.S. Implemented Lockdown Earlier

An airport worker cleans a screen as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, at a Delta Airlines gate at New York’s JFK International Airport, Tuesday. (Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)

Thousands of lives could have been saved had the United States implemented a lockdown even just one week before it did, according to new data by Columbia University researchers, NBC News reported.

As of Thursday, nearly 95,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, but researchers estimate that nearly 36,000 fewer would have died by early May if social distancing rules had been announced a week earlier. Some 54,000 people would have been saved if measures were taken two weeks earlier, The New York Times reported.

“These dramatic reductions of morbidity and mortality due to more timely deployment of control measures highlight the critical need for aggressive, early response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the researchers wrote. They used coronavirus transmission data from New York, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and Miami to calculate the numbers, they said.

In New York City, the region hardest hit by the disease, a statewide lockdown went into effect on March 22 — weeks after the first confirmed case was reported there. The first COVID-19 case in the country was reported in Washington state as early as Jan. 20.

While the researchers acknowledge that their estimates are “based on idealized hypothetical assumptions” and that an earlier lockdown in the U.S. is complicated by factors such as economic concerns and logistics, they also note that other countries like South Korea and Italy were already responding aggressively to the coronavirus by the end of February, a full month before the United States.

In response to the study, the White House blamed China, where the coronavirus originated, for its lack of transparency at the start of the pandemic and the World Health Organization for the lives that could have been saved.

“What did save American lives is the bold leadership of President Trump, including the early travel restrictions when we had no idea the true level of asymptomatic spread and the greatest mobilization of the private sector since World War II to deliver critical supplies to states in need and ramp up testing across the country that has placed us on a responsible path to reopen our country,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere said in a statement to NBC News.