Only A ‘5-Week National Lockdown’ Can Contain Coronavirus In America, MIT-Trained Pandemics Expert Declares

Even as state governors issue 'stay-at-home' orders, a leading expert on global pandemics says the current measures do not go far enough.

Woman in mask walks across the Brooklyn Bridge.
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Even as state governors issue 'stay-at-home' orders, a leading expert on global pandemics says the current measures do not go far enough.

Even as New York and California, as well as several other states, imposed statewide “stay-at-home” orders, closing businesses and requiring that residents remain indoors except to perform essential tasks such as food shopping, a leading expert on global pandemics said Saturday that those measures will not do enough to stop the stream of coronavirus. Instead, he wrote, the entire United States must be fully locked down for five full weeks.

As of the early hours on Sunday morning, 345 people have died in the United States due to the coronavirus, with the total number of cases topping 26,800 — with 2,681 new cases appearing on Saturday alone, according to the population data site Worldometers. Worldwide, the coronavirus pandemic has claimed 13,069 lives out of more than 308,000 cases around the globe.

The massive slowdown in economic activity in the U.S. has also caused devastation, with the investment bank Goldman Sachs projecting an all-time record 24 percent drop in gross domestic product for the second quarter of 2020, as a deep recession sweeps across the country.

The only way to put a stop to the human and economic destruction, according to pandemics expert Yaneer Bar-Yam — a physicist and specialist in complex systems trained at the Massachusetts Institute of technology — is “a five-week national lockdown.”

Andrew Cuomo speaks.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo imposed a statewide lockdown order on Friday. Bennett Raglin / Getty Images

Writing in USA Today on Saturday, Bar-Yam said that “our relaxed approach to social distancing is insufficient to stop the exponential growth of COVID-19,” the severe respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

Instead, Bar-Yam wrote, Americans must “consistently adopt strong social distancing recommendations — a lockdown,” which he said is the only hope to stop the disease from spreading “exponentially.”

What would a five-week lockdown look like? According to the MIT-trained expert, Americans nationwide would be compelled by “federal, state and local authorities” to remain in their homes unless they need to go out of their homes for food, medical care, or to perform work vital to keep society functioning.

In addition, all travel would be banned — not only by closing borders and shutting down airports, but also by barring travel between states, counties, and even cities and towns, according to Bar-Yam’s op-ed essay in USA Today. The government would be required to provide assistance to Americans who cannot earn income during the national lockdown.

While imposing such a strict, five-week lockdown may seem like an extreme measure, in fact, it is the “fastest and even the only way” to curtail the coronavirus epidemic, Bar-Yam wrote. The lockdown would “sharply reduce cases” by allowing those currently infected to recover while preventing new transmissions of the disease. The lockdown would also give the U.S. much-needed time to “dramatically scale up our supply of COVID-19 test kits and capacity to process them,” Bar-Yam wrote.