In recent congressional testimony Dr. Anthony Fauci, the primary architect of the Trump administration’s COVID response, painted a bleak picture about the United States’s ability to contain the pandemic. According to Fauci’s narrative, the United States is experiencing a resurgence in regional COVID outbreaks because it failed to sufficiently lock down back in March, and failed to comply with the existing lockdown orders. Fauci specifically contrasted this situation to several European states that imposed lockdowns around the same time, claiming the latter as a successful model for COVID containment.
There are several immediate problems with Fauci’s arguments, including the fact that COVID cases are showing clear signs of a summer resurgence in the same European countries that allegedly tamed the virus through harsh lockdowns in the spring. The American news media however has seized on Fauci’s narrative, and used it to call for renewed lockdowns. The New York Times and the Washington Post both editorialized in favor of a second stricter wave of nationwide lockdowns lasting until October – this despite there being no clear evidence that lockdowns actually work at taming the virus.
So how does the evidence behind this narrative stand up under empirical scrutiny? Let’s consider the claims.
Did the United States react too late?
According to the pro-lockdown narrative, the United States is experiencing a second COVID wave because it took a lackadaisical approach to locking down. We allegedly closed too late and reopened too early, leading to a failure to tame the virus in the spring. This same narrative often holds up Europe as a counterpoint for what a cautious, responsible, and evidence-based reopening process supposedly looks like.
I’ve investigated this claim previously using start and end dates for the lockdowns in various countries. Simply put, it is entirely without merit.
Most of the United States went into lockdown during the second and third weeks of March, following a set of Trump Administration recommendations that were based on the now-discredited Imperial College epidemiology model of Neil Ferguson. In total, 43 of 50 American states imposed shelter-in-place style lockdowns, with the holdouts consisting almost entirely of rural western states with low population density and few signs of the outbreaks that plagued the cities of the northeast at that time.
As far as timing goes, the US lockdowns came into effect at almost exactly the same time as not only Europe but the majority of the world. A few early outbreak hotspots such as Italy preceded this shutdown by about 2 weeks, and a handful of countries (Sweden, Taiwan, Belarus) bucked the international trend. But otherwise, the timeline clearly confirms that the American response directly coincided with most other countries.