Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Customers shop in a Dick's Sporting Goods store as Los Angeles County retail businesses reopen while the Covid-19 pandemic continues on May 27, 2020 in Glendale, California. (Photo: David McNew/Getty Images)

Customers shop in a Dick's Sporting Goods store as Los Angeles County retail businesses reopen while the Covid-19 pandemic continues on May 27, 2020 in Glendale, California. (Photo: David McNew/Getty Images)

Amid Easing Restrictions, Study Estimates Shutdowns Prevented 60 Million Covid-19 Cases in US Alone

"I don't think any human endeavor has ever saved so many lives in such a short period of time," said the study's lead author.

Jessica Corbett

Though the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the United States is nearing two million and the death toll has topped 110,500, an analysis published Monday in the journal Nature shows that stay-at-home orders and other measures implemented in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic prevented about 60 million infections nationwide.

"It's as if the roof was about to fall in, but we caught it before it crushed everyone."
—Solomon Hsiang, UC Berkeley

"The last several months have been extraordinarily difficult, but through our individual sacrifices, people everywhere have each contributed to one of humanity's greatest collective achievements," lead author Solomon Hsiang said in a statement Monday. "I don't think any human endeavor has ever saved so many lives in such a short period of time."

Since mid-March, millions of people in the U.S. have lost their jobs—and for many, that has also meant losing their health insurance in the midst of a pandemic. Americans' struggles to access healthcare, remain in their homes, and keep food on the table has put pressure on congressional leaders and the Trump administration to dramatically expand efforts that provide direct relief to peple who need it.

The findings come as communities across the country are easing restrictions—despite worries that reopening too early could lead to a surge in new infections. The analysis also comes amid a wave of nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism for which hundreds (pdf) of public health experts have expressed support while also warning of the inherent risks and the necessity of taking precautions.

The University of California, Berkeley said in a statement that the study is the "first peer-reviewed analysis of local, regional, and national policies" enacted to contain the virus. Researchers examined containment efforts in the U.S., South Korea, Italy, Iran, France, and China—where the virus first emerged late last year—and found that across all six nations, 1,717 travel restrictions, business and school closures, and other policies prevented roughly 530 million Covid-19 infections.

The study period ended April 6. Continuing containment policies since then has likely prevented many millions more cases, according to Hsiang, director of UC Berkeley's Global Policy Laboratory and a professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy. He said that "April and May would have been even more devastating if we had done nothing, with a toll we probably can't imagine."

"It's as if the roof was about to fall in, but we caught it before it crushed everyone," Hsiang added. "It was difficult and exhausting, and we are still holding it up. But by coming together, we did something as a society that nobody could have done alone and which has never been done before."

The UC Berkeley statement explained that "the study did not estimate how many lives might have been saved by the policies because, with so many infections, fatality rates would be much higher than anything observed to date."

Infectious disease expert Dr. Dena Grayson added a similar note after responding to the new study on Twitter Monday with an estimate of the number of deaths prevented based on the current fatality rate:

As the Washington Post reported Monday:

A separate study from epidemiologists at Imperial College London estimated the shutdowns saved about 3.1 million lives in 11 European countries, including 500,000 in the United Kingdom, and dropped infection rates by an average of 82%, sufficient to drive the contagion well below epidemic levels.

...But the overwhelming majority of people remain susceptible to the virus. Only about 3% to 4% of people in the countries being studied have been infected to date, said Samir Bhatt, senior author of the Imperial College London study.

"This is just the beginning of the epidemic: we're very far from herd immunity," Bhatt told the Post in an email Monday. "The risk of a second wave happening if all interventions and precautions are abandoned is very real."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Congress Must Act': Bernie Sanders Demands End of Filibuster to Codify Abortion Rights

"We must pass legislation that codifies Roe v. Wade as the law of the land in this country. And if there aren't 60 votes to do it, and there are not, we must reform the filibuster to pass it with 50 votes."

Jon Queally ·


Human Rights Defenders Warn Biden Border Policy 'Quickly Transforming Into Trump 2.0'

Like his predecessor, President Joe Biden now being accused of "using racist, xenophobic tropes about immigrants to weaponize Covid-19 against migrants and asylum-seekers."

Jon Queally ·


'Bombshell': Israeli Spyware Used to Hack iPhones of US State Department Officials

Calling the Israel-based spyware maker NSO Group an "in-plain-sight national security threat," one expert warned that "a multi-agency investigation is immediately needed."

Jessica Corbett ·


US Progressive Caucus Hails Honduran Election as Chance for 'New Chapter' in Relations

"We encourage the Biden administration to use this opportunity to make a clean break with previous presidential administrations, which worked to ensure that the 2009 coup d'état succeeded."

Brett Wilkins ·


'The Facts of This Case Are So Egregious': Parents of Michigan School Shooter Charged in Killings

"There were a lot of things that could have been so simple to prevent," the Oakland County prosecutor said of the mother and father now being sought by law enforcement.

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo