What do people mean by “lockdown”?
Not everything called a lockdown is a lockdown.
People—and especially COVID minimizers—are awfully imprecise about what they mean by “lockdown.” This leads to a lot of silliness:
The lockdown is over!
And by that they apparently mean that people should stop social distancing.
But how do masks and 6-foot distancing constitute a “lockdown”?
If by “lockdown,” one means that citizens are required to stay at home except for very limited exceptions, it’s debatable whether any part of the Unites States ever locked down. At the end of March 2020, when COVID deaths had cause the mortality to spike seven-fold in New York City, one could walk into JFK Airport and fly anywhere in the country, just because.
If one means that “stay-at-home orders” are a lockdown, only California could arguably be “locked down” after summer, with their stay-at-home order imposed December 5 and lifted a month ago. Even this example seems tenuous as non-essential retail was still allowed at 20%. While California did purport to prevent people from travelling more than 120 miles, this rule was a complete farce given that airports were open and operating normally. As far as I can tell, the rule was never enforced. Most American lockdowns have been mostly suggestions.
In contrast, other parts of the world have experienced lockdowns with teeth. During the 111-day lockdown of Melbourne in Australia, a 3 kilometer limit was imposed, with nightly curfews, and these rules were publicly enforced with actual arrests.
Stop abusing the word “lockdown”
The misuse of “lockdown” seems intentional.
The word conveys imprisonment. When the cell block riots, it might get put on lockdown. No visitors, no exercise time, all prisoners are stuck in their cells. This is what skeptics like to pretend—that they are imprisoned. Complaining about indoor mask rules or capacity limits doesn’t have the same verbal punch as “lockdown,” so they use the word in reference to any kind of restriction, no matter how mild.
As someone who has had clients in actual prison, this has always bothered me. Prisoners can’t leave when they want, they can’t stroll around the block, and they certainly can’t get into a car and pickup takeout for the miner inconvenience of wearing a mask.
COVID minimizers misuse the word for a second reason: to pretend that “lockdowns don’t work.” The logic and evidence behind lockdowns is compelling; when an infectious disease is not allowed to spread, it won’t spread. The virus obviously has spread in places that have (unenforced, half-assed) American-style “lockdowns,” but in counties that seriously attempt to curb the spread of the disease have succeeded in that attempt, from the temporary lockdowns in the UK to the more successful and committed ones in China and Australia.
It may be that the United States blundered into the worse possible policy with bad “lockdowns” that harm businesses but have enough holes that they don’t meaningfully suppress the disease. But at the very least, we should stop describing capacity limits and aspirational social distancing guidelines as “lockdowns.”