Dr. David Nabarro, a special envoy of the World Health Organization on the coronavirus pandemic, recently warned that lockdowns should “not be used [as] a primary means of control of [COVID-19]. The only time [they are] justified is to buy you time to reorganize, regroup, and rebalance your resources.”

State officials, such as those in California and New York, continue to impose oppressive lockdowns and seem to show little concern for the many consequences of these government restrictions.

>>> What’s the best way for America to reopen and return to business? The National Coronavirus Recovery Commission, a project of The Heritage Foundation, assembled America’s top thinkers to figure that out. So far, it has made more than 260 recommendations. Learn more here. 

Instead of imposing draconian restrictions, state officials should pursue a balanced approach—an approach that would protect public health and ensure the lives and livelihoods of all citizens.

Data is accumulating on the consequences of extended lockdowns. Unnecessary suffering and death is occurring from drug overdoses, suicides, and untreated medical conditions. Despair, poverty, and mental health issues are also a tragedy, and they are aggravated by poor pandemic policies.

The burden is on the state to justify the need for the measures. Severe restrictions should only be imposed as a last resort when lesser restrictive measures have failed and medical resources are at risk.

With an estimated lower infection fatality ratio than expected in all age groups, and a median infection fatality ration of 0.05% in people under 70 years old, it is reasonable to consider new strategies with fewer restrictive guidelines.

Three well-known and renowned scientists from Oxford, Harvard, and Stanford universities, with combined expertise in epidemiology, virology, vaccine development, and infectious disease modeling, recently authored one such approach.

The Great Barrington Declaration outlines a strategy referred to as “focused protection,” which aims to address the legitimate negative effects of severe lockdowns on young people, the working class, and poor communities.

The declaration has been signed by more than 11,000 medical and public health scientists, over 33,000 medical practitioners, and more than 600,000 persons within the public.

This focused approach is getting pushback from other scientists who claim that such a policy position is based on “a dangerous fallacy unsupported by scientific evidence.” For example, the John Snow Memorandum has thus far been signed by more than 6,400 scientists and health professionals. 

Of course, public health officials should follow the science. However, the science is not settled on COVID-19 policies or public health measures. Debate continues globally as scientists and medical professionals reevaluate what are and are not practical and reasonable public health measures.

Likewise, policymakers are trying to grapple with what is and is not sound public policy and are trying to calibrate their policies in consideration of the impact of the pandemic on society as a whole.

To address these concerns, health authorities and public officials should reconsider current restrictions and guidelines to limit intrusion and respond with sense of proportionality.

There is room for a safe adjustment to many of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines—some of which are more restrictive than those outlined by the WHO and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Many countries across the world have implemented less restrictive measures than the U.S. Relaxing select guidelines could improve compliance with public health measures, and the use of lockdowns as a primary measure should end.

If the CDC adjusted the social distancing guidelines to match the WHO recommendation of 1 meter (or about 3.3 feet) for social distancing, U.S. businesses and schools could increase capacity and minimize unnecessary quarantine and isolation of employees and students.  

Many countries around the world are adhering to this distance and research suggests it is acceptable for prevention. A distance of 1 meter would result in fewer unnecessary quarantines in the U.S. and improve resource availability for contact tracing.

Public health officials have informed the public that masks are a necessary measure to stop the spread of the virus. Yet, quarantine guidelines for individuals not wearing masks are the same for those wearing masks. Public health officials should consider mask adherence when requiring quarantine.

Since the average onset of COVID-19 symptoms is five to six days, and because the public was not complying with the 14-day quarantine guidance, France and Belgium recently took a pragmatic approach and reduced quarantine to seven days.

A change to quarantine requirements in the U.S. would address the punitive nature of quarantine and prevent avoidance of the health care system and testing.

Too many public health officials, especially at the state level, damaged the trust of the American people at the start of the pandemic. This mistrust stems from the refusal or inability of public health officials to share pertinent data, inconsistency in data reporting,  and the use of misleading metrics.

A new approach to managing the pandemic—using reasonable, practical guidelines and appropriate metrics—is necessary to reduce the onerous burdens on the public, protect the rights of Americans, and reestablish trust in the public health system.