At the start of the pandemic last year, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti chose “safer at home” as the motto for his lockdown policies. If the past year has shown us anything, it’s how misguided that notion is. Lockdowns have created not just economic devastation for America’s small businesses, restaurants, museums, and zoos. They have also taken a significant toll on the mental and physical health of everyone from small children to the elderly (while doing little to contain the virus itself). To get a sense of this, compare two states that took opposite approaches: New York and Florida.
Despite the hysteria about how bad things were in Florida and the Biden administration’s recent threat to restrict travel to the state, statistics suggest that you’re better off in the Sunshine State. Currently, Florida has 224 people per 1 million in hospitals for Covid-19; New York State has 338 per million, or 50 percent more. In New York, blacks are 2.3 times more likely than whites to die of Covid; in Florida, blacks are equally as likely as whites to die. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s disastrous policies have resulted in much higher mortality rates in New York’s nursing homes than in Florida’s.
The lockdowns themselves have also been deeply destructive. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Florida saw a 4.6 percent drop in employment from December 2019 to December 2020. New York’s drop was more than twice that, at 10.4 percent. To judge by recent news coverage of businesses fleeing New York for Florida, it’s possible that a number of those jobs simply went from one state to the other.
The pandemic’s toll on physical and mental health has also been severe, no doubt related to these economic losses but also caused by the severe isolation people experience under lockdown. At the beginning of the pandemic, Florida entered a brief lockdown phase in the same way that New York did. As a result, both states saw a severe decline in the number of cases reported to state child-abuse hotlines.
In Florida, reports dropped 40 percent from April 2019 to April 2020, but by July they had begun to climb again. Schools were open in Florida by the end of the school year, and child-welfare calls to the hotline jumped from 18,909 in April to 22,468 in July. In the autumn, certain areas of the state saw a jump of as much as 58 percent in reports of abuse. Florida’s schools have been running almost completely in-person, meaning that teachers were once again able to see and report severe cases of abuse and neglect.
New York experienced a similar decline in abuse reports when the lockdown began—a more than 50 percent decrease from spring 2019 to spring 2020. But the numbers have been slower to return to normal in the Big Apple, since most kids are still not in school regularly. In Long Island, for instance, reports are still down more than 15 percent. In New York City, they’re down more than 20 percent from pre-pandemic levels. And the poorest and most vulnerable children are the ones least likely to be attending school in person.
Adults are suffering, too. A report from the CDC, based on a survey conducted in June, found that “Suicidal ideation was . . . elevated; approximately twice as many respondents reported serious consideration of suicide in the previous 30 days than did adults in the United States in 2018, referring to the previous 12 months (10.7 percent versus 4.3 percent).” While data on the number of people who took their own lives last year are not available yet, at least one strange fact has emerged: according to preliminary Medical Examiner statistics, the number of suicides in Florida actually dropped 13 percent in 2020 from the previous year, and 16 percent from 2018. This might be part of a long-term trend, but even so, it is still striking that the pandemic has not interrupted it.
From the spike in drug overdoses to deaths resulting from a lack of preventive medical care, it’s clear that long-term lockdowns are having serious, often fatal effects on Americans of all ages. If states are supposed to be laboratories of democracy, the results of the past year’s experiments are in. We are not safer at home.