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Noah Smith

Fear of Infection Hurt the Economy More Than Lockdowns

There is a middle way — lockdown lite — that allows most activity to continue without snuffing out business.

There’s a way to do this.

There’s a way to do this.

Photographer: Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America

Until recently, it seemed like the contentious debate over lockdowns was over. By the end of May, many states were defying the warnings of public-health experts, reopening restaurants, retail and public spaces. The huge protests against police brutality and racism reinforced the notion that keeping Americans confined to their homes was a lost cause. Now, even San Francisco, one of the first cities to issue a stay-at-home order, is proceeding with a phased reopening of businesses and public spaces.

But reopening always came with a question mark. With the coronavirus still out there, would cases rise if stay-at-home orders were lifted? And if that happened, would lockdowns have to come back?