As we publish this week’s Notes, America is in the process of fully reopening after months of back-and-forth loosening of mandates related to the original COVID-19 lockdowns.
Here in my home state of Arizona, other than people (mostly) wearing masks, things are returning to what appears to be normal. Traffic has picked up considerably and there are the occasional rush hour back-ups. The hot tub at my fitness center is once again bubbling. I even had to search for a parking spot when driving to one of my favorite watering holes last week.
Meanwhile, more than three million Americans are receiving the COVID vaccine each day, as we head towards what will hopefully be the fabled “herd immunity.”
We hate to be the bearer of potentially bad tidings, but happy days aren’t necessarily here again. Public health officials are warning about a coming next wave fueled by even more contagious variants of the COVID-19 virus. And while existing COVID vaccines seem to be effective against most of the variants, in at least one of them – the South African variant particularly – the vaccines are significantly less effective.
We are now in the early stages of that predicted new wave. COVID cases are increasing again in 27 states after hitting a low point late last month. States where caseloads are rising the fastest have also been hit hardest by the variants. In Michigan, COVID-related hospitalizations are already more than three times higher than they were a month ago. Around 70% of the new cases are being typed as a more contagious and more virulent variant than the previous strain. Other states experiencing big increases include Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
Yet the reopenings are continuing and even accelerating. Even with millions of Americans already vaccinated, nearly 70% of the population hasn’t received even a first dose of the vaccine. That’s a lot of potentially infected people walking around. It means that if caseloads continue spiking upward as we approach the end of April, we could be in for renewed lockdowns. And if the South African variant takes hold in the United States, even vaccinated people won’t be safe from it.
Personally, we believe lockdowns are a terrible idea. The economic destruction wrought by the 2020 lockdowns cost the US economy trillions of dollars. And while it’s clear lockdowns “worked” in the sense of leading to fewer COVID infections, they were accompanied by spikes in murders and suicides.
But if lockdowns are reinstated, we can look to Europe to see what form they would likely take. In France, for instance, schools are closed until at least April 26. “Non-essential businesses” must also close. (Owners of such businesses might disagree that they’re non-essential.) French citizens are prohibited from venturing more than six miles from their homes and a national dusk-to-dawn curfew is in effect. In much of Italy, all schools and universities are closed, only “essential” businesses can remain open, and a 10pm to 5am curfew is in effect.
We hope lockdowns don’t return to the United States. But if they do, it wouldn’t hurt to be prepared for them.
Your first priority should be to stay healthy and avoid hospitalization until enough Americans are immunized to reach some degree of herd immunity. Keep in mind that could take much longer than you might think – if ever – because one in four Americans say they’ll refuse a COVID vaccination. You don’t want to have to need care in an intensive care unit when no beds are available. That’s the situation residents of Michigan will soon face if current trends continue.
Next, remember how quickly staples such as canned goods (and yes, toilet paper) disappeared off the shelves a year ago? If lockdowns resume, it could happen again. Thus, we suggest that you accumulate food, water, fuel, first-aid supplies, batteries, cash, weapons, and ammunition while these goods are still widely available.
We sincerely hope we’re wrong about the next set of lockdowns in the United States. But if they do come, be prepared for them.