When D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser extended our lockdown to June 8 earlier this week, she did so with a statement that included this:

“We have to be smart; we have to follow the science. We have to get ready to reopen,” she said.

Who doesn’t want the mayor to be smart and follow science?

Science is always tentative—something new, a new theory or an unexpected discovery, can always come along and upset established order. Science is fluid, not dogmatic. 

And, so, I hope Mayor Bowser and others who decide whether to extend lockdowns are paying close attention to the science. “Science” is enquiry, not a buzz word.  

Two states that have opened up with fanfare and controversy are Florida and Georgia. How’s that working out in terms of infection spread? Axios reports:

Some of the states that skeptics were most worried about, including Florida and Georgia, haven’t seen the rise in total cases that some experts feared.

  • Florida’s new cases have actually declined by 14% compared to the previous week, and Georgia’s fell by 12%.
  • Nevada leads the pack with a 44% reduction, while several hard-hit states that embraced aggressive lockdowns to help contain early outbreaks — Michigan, New York and New Jersey — all saw reductions of at least 30%.

This is tentative. A surge in infections is still possible. But this is valuable information that should be factored into a decision on re-opening. It’s scientific information.

We also need to look at Sweden.

Once the darling of the left, Sweden is not quite as popular with her former friends for the simple reason that it did not shutdown in the drastic way that the U.S. did.

Sweden’s policy was less draconian. An article in Foreign Affairs explains what they did:

Rather than declare a lockdown or a state of emergency, Sweden asked its citizens to practice social distancing on a mostly voluntary basis. Swedish authorities imposed some restrictions designed to flatten the curve: no public gatherings of more than 50 people, no bar service, distance learning in high schools and universities, and so on. But they eschewed harsh controls, fines, and policing.

Swedes have changed their behavior, but not as profoundly as the citizens of other Western democracies. Many restaurants remain open, although they are lightly trafficked; young children are still in school. And in contrast to neighboring Norway (and some Asian countries), Sweden has not introduced location-tracing technologies or apps, thus avoiding threats to privacy and personal autonomy.

Sweden’s goal was herd immunity. There are signs that it is working:

Based on updated behavioral assumptions (social-distancing norms are changing how Swedes behave), the Stockholm University mathematician Tom Britton has calculated that 40 percent immunity in the capital could be enough to stop the virus’s spread there and that this could happen by mid-June.

. . .

Sweden’s response has not been perfect, but it has succeeded in bolstering immunity among the young and the healthy—those at the lowest risk of serious complications from COVID-19—while also flattening the curve. The country’s intensive care units have not been overrun, and hospital staffs, although under strain, have at least not had to juggle additional childcare responsibilities because daycares and lower schools continue to operate.    

Whether or not they have openly embraced the Swedish approach, many other countries are now trying to emulate aspects of it.

If you want to be scientific, and I hope you do, this is valuable information.

We also need to remember that we can tailor our response to reflect what we know scientifically about how COVID-19 affects different populations.

Unlike New York, Florida protected the elderly in nursing homes. Florida tailored its policy scientifically.

And we need to remember why we embarked on this shutdown. We shut down to flatten the infection curve so that medical facilities would not be overrun; we were never going to remain closed until a cure or vaccine was found. Meanwhile, the lockdown may force many of our hospitals to close permanently.

I believe in science, too. And I hope we will use it to get the country on track before it is too late.

Nobody wants to open recklessly, but on the other hand, we’d like an economy that has a chance of coming back.

Let’s look at science—all the science—to determine what is the safest thing to do, for all of us.