John Locke Update / Research Brief

How Much Are Cooper’s Orders to Blame for Non-Covid Excess Deaths in North Carolina?

posted on in COVID-19 Series, Economics, Human Flourishing, Law & Regulation, Rights & Regulation
Featured Image
  • Research continues to find serious, deadly effects of lockdowns and severe government restrictions over Covid-19, such as Gov. Cooper’s, while failing to find evidence of their purported benefits
  • From March 2020 through January 2021 (the end of available data), under Cooper’s unrelenting orders, North Carolina has been witnessing a second excess death event other than Covid-19
  • It is disheartening to see evidence of an ongoing, non-Covid death event months and months after citing science and data to sound the alarm repeatedly in the hopes of warding off such grim results

Lockdowns and severe personal and business restrictions against entire societies (not the sick and vulnerable) in response to Covid-19 were always a rash and untested policy response, and circumspect thinkers questioned them from the start. In short order it became apparent that they were fraught with severe consequences and deadly unintended impacts on people’s lives that threatened to far exceed actual lives saved from Covid.

Cooper tightened orders even as state health officials were delinquent in reporting death data

From the outset, we have questioned and challenged Gov. Roy Cooper’s extreme orders, which well exceeded the statutory and constitutional authority of the governor’s office. We have not only discussed the emerging science and data into the effects of these lockdowns and severe restrictions, but we have also used official government data on deaths from all causes to probe whether such effects could be seen happening in North Carolina. These data could be, we wrote, “an early warning sign to see if the lockdowns and restrictions are indeed having the net negative effects that scientists, physicians, economists, and other experts have been warning about.”

But we encountered a significant and potentially terrible roadblock: the extremely tardy reporting of deaths by the Cooper administration to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. North Carolina is worst in the nation by far. The last time we looked into these data, in early March, North Carolina was three and a half months behind the nation.

For that reason, our March review could look back only as far as mid-September, prior to Cooper’s tightening of his orders in the fall and even reinstating curfews and early business closures. Worse, the governor and his administration showed no interest in questioning whether his orders could unwittingly be having deadlier effects.

Now the state is over four months behind the rest of the nation in reporting death data. As of June 22, the rest of the nation has reported deaths data to the CDC through June 5. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), headed by state health bureaucrat Mandy Cohen, has reported only through January 30.

Research continues to find serious, deadly effects of lockdowns and severe government restrictions

Meanwhile, more and more research keeps showing the deadly unintended consequences of lockdowns and severe personal, school, and business restrictions. Here is a quick sampling of recent findings:

  • Emergency department visits for suspected teen suicide attempts increased dramatically starting in May 2020, especially for girls aged 12–17, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found
  • Drug overdose deaths shot up to record levels in 2020, according to the CDC — up 29.4% in the U.S.
  • Drug overdose deaths in North Carolina rose even more rapidly, according to the CDC — up 33.4%
  • Pew Research Center found high numbers of people experiencing high levels of psychological distress, with young adults being “especially likely to report anxiety, depression or loneliness compared with other age groups”
  • Investigative reporting by the Associated Press found a “child abuse crisis” being fueled by school closings and other orders that have “ripped away several systemic safety nets for millions of Americans,” with the result being that “child abuse reports, investigations, substantiated allegations and interventions have dropped at a staggering rate, increasing risks for the most vulnerable of families in the U.S.”
  • A March 2021 National Bureau of Economics (NBER) Working Paper looking into the effect of alcohol consumption at home under lockdown concluded the lockdowns were a “principal driver of domestic violence” — and included a discussion of the many studies demonstrating a “marked increase in domestic violence” owing to lockdowns
  • Emergency department visits for mental-health related problems in children (5-11) and teens (12–17) have also spiked, as have eating disorders, suicide attempts, and disruptive behavior, per Dr. Monica Gandhi and Dr. Jeanne Noble discussing CDC data and hospital reporting in the Wall Street Journal on June 10
  • A research review by Parvez Dara for the American Institute for Economic Research found increases in deaths from heart disease, cancer, diabetes, strokes, and more, resulting from people either being forced or choosing out of overly stoked fears to avoid essential health care visits, and Dara’s review warned of a coming “non-Covid death epidemic” over letting potentially deadly afflictions fester
  • An NBER Working Paper by professors at Duke University, Johns Hopkins University, and Harvard Medical School warned that the death toll from the economic impact of lockdowns and other government COVID containment measures could far exceed that of the virus itself over the next 15 to 20 years, disproportionately affecting African-Americans and women in the short term
  • Two studies out of Europe warned that mask-wearers were at risk of “potentially hazardous chemicals and harmful microplastics being inhaled deep into human lungs,” including finding “elevated concentrations of hazardous fluorocarbons, formaldehyde and other potentially carcinogenic substances” on the surfaces of masks, causing one of the researchers to state, “What we are breathing through our mouth and nose is actually hazardous waste”
  • New or freshly laundered schoolchildren’s face masks worn only for 5–8 hours in a single school day were sent to the University of Florida’s Mass Spectrometry Research and Education Center for analysis, and the results showed they had already become contaminated with deadly pathogens: half with one or more strains of bacteria that can cause pneumonia, a third with one or more strains of bacteria than can cause meningitis, and a third with dangerous pathogens that are antibiotic-resistant (they also found a wide spectrum of other, less dangerous pathogens)

The intended consequences of lockdowns and such severe personal, school, and business restrictions were, of course, to save lives and hospital beds. But these massive public interventions have never been done before; forced quarantines and mask-wearing were never for the healthy, but the sick. Despite their staggering costs, the future tally of which can’t be known for years and years, could they be worth it?

Research fails to find evidence of the purported benefits of lockdowns and severe restrictions

The more research comes in on this question, the worse these government edicts appear (emphasis added):

  • June 2021 research from NBER reported not only that “We fail to find that shelter-in-place policies [lockdowns] worked,” but also that a “one-week increase in the duration” of lockdowns was associated with 2.7 more excess deaths per 100,000 people. Furthermore, they reported that “We failed to find that countries or U.S. states that implemented SIP policies [lockdowns] earlier, and in which SIP policies had longer to operate, had lower excess deaths than countries/U.S. states that were slower to implement SIP policies.”
  • An April 2021 study published by the European Journal of Clinical Investigation examining the “most restrictive nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) for controlling the spread of COVID-19” — i.e., “mandatory stay-at-home and business closures” —reported that “we fail to find an additional benefit of stay-at-home orders and business closures,” and going further, postulated that even if lockdowns and business closures did have some benefits, “these benefits may not match the numerous harms of these aggressive measures.” Researchers specifically mentioned that “school closures may have very serious harms, estimated at an equivalent of 5.5 million life years for children in the United States during the spring school closures alone.” That estimate comes from a November 2020 study published by JAMA Network that modeled the effects of school closures on decreased educational attainment, which is known to reduce life expectancy. Researchers said their “findings suggest that the decision to close US public primary schools in the early months of 2020 may be associated with a decrease in life expectancy for US children.” Worse: “This estimated loss in life expectancy was likely to be greater than would have been observed if leaving primary schools open had led to an expansion of the first wave of the pandemic” — i.e., it would have been better for children to keep them in school.
  • While lockdowns were ordered to keep people at home and “stop the spread,” an April 2021 NBER Working Paper showed that large organizations were actually safer owing to early, voluntary adoption of mitigation protocols. The evidence “contradicts the public-health ideal in which households would be places of solitary confinement and zero transmission” and suggests instead that “households show the highest transmission rates” and are, in fact, “high-risk settings for the transmission of [Covid-19].” Importantly, the study found that “Schools, businesses, and other organizations implemented a range of prevention protocols – from adjusting airflow to installing physical barriers to monitoring compliance to administering their own testing services – that households did not, and perhaps could not,” and in so doing, “these organizations greatly reduced the spread.” But government orders shutting them down and forcing people in lockdowns and staying at home meant that “the sign of the public-health effects of stay-at-home orders may have reversed during the first few weeks of the pandemic.” In other words, lockdowns likely caused more people to get sick and die by forcing them to spend the bulk of their time in the actual high-risk settings for Covid-19 spread: households.
  • April 2021 research published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on “Evaluating the effects of shelter-in-place policies during the COVID-19 pandemic” reported that “We find no evidence that SIP policies [lockdowns] led to reductions in new COVID cases or deaths; indeed, the point estimates for both outcomes are positive but insignificant.” A finding of no evidence “should be taken seriously,” they argued, “precisely because the policy implications are so important.” As they wrote, “At the very least, our results suggest that policy makers should not begin with the presumption that SIP policies are known to be effective.”
  • In December 2020, the American Institute for Economic Research, building off the work of data engineer Ivor Cummins, compiled and summarized 35 studies finding “no relationship between lockdowns … and virus control.”

The non-Covid excess death event in North Carolina

In March 2021, even though we were unable to examine North Carolina’s all-cause death data beyond mid-September 2020, we found that “North Carolina was witnessing more excess deaths than COVID deaths, underscoring how great was the increase in non-COVID deaths.”

As we wrote:

These findings suggest the effects of Cooper’s lockdown and severe personal and business restrictions have indeed been deadly, confirming the warnings from scientists, physicians, economists, mental health experts, and others over the past year.

This other, non-COVID death event — how bad did it get, or how bad has it gotten in the ensuing months? We can’t know, because the Cooper administration’s data reporting is so incomplete and far behind. Would Cooper have kept his orders all in place if he knew back in the fall about these non-COVID deaths? Would he have tightened them as he did? We can’t know that either.

Now several months since asking those questions, we have a better answer for how bad this other, non-Covid excess death event got — at least through January 2021, at the peak of Covid cases in North Carolina. The results are very much as we feared and tried to warn the Cooper administration about. Here is a graph based on our investigation (click the graph for the full size):

North Carolina was experiencing Covid excess deaths, but each week flagged with a yellow warning sign represents a week in which the state also experienced non-Covid excess deaths. Click here for a lengthy explanation of how to interpret this graph and understand the data behind it. Here is a brief discussion of the findings it illustrates.

From March 2020 through January 2021 (the last month for which data are available):

  • North Carolina experienced excess deaths, counting Covid deaths, from the week ending April 4, 2020, on through January 2021
  • Every week after the first week of Cooper’s original lockdown order of March 27, 2020, North Carolina experienced above-average deaths without counting Covid deaths, except for the weeks ending June 13, 2020, and January 16–30, 2021
  • For most weeks starting from the week ending April 25, 2020, into January 2021, North Carolina was experiencing excess deaths without counting Covid deaths — i.e., a second excess death event on top of Covid excess deaths
  • The exceptions were the weeks ending May 30–June 27, 2020; Oct. 3, 2020; Oct. 24–31, 2020; Nov. 21, 2020; Dec. 12, 2020, and Jan. 9–30, 2021

It is disheartening to see evidence of an ongoing, non-Covid death event months and months after citing science and data to sound the alarm repeatedly in the hopes of warding off such grim results.

Worse, it is an unsettling thought that Cooper’s insistence on retaining a “State of Emergency” even now, with no foundation in reason, is highly suggestive that he harbors an inclination to return to this deadly well in the coming weeks.

The people of North Carolina desperately need the other branches of government — the legislature and the courts — to rein in this dangerous abuse of emergency powers by the governor.

Jon Sanders is an economist studying state regulations, that spreading kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. Serving as Senior Fellow of Regulatory Studies and also Research Editor at the John Locke Foundation, Jon gets in the weeds of all… ...

Donate Today

About John Locke Foundation

We are North Carolina’s Most Trusted and Influential Source of Common Sense. The John Locke Foundation was created in 1990 as an independent, nonprofit think tank that would work “for truth, for freedom, and for the future of North Carolina.” The Foundation is named for John Locke (1632-1704), an English philosopher whose writings inspired Thomas Jefferson and the other Founders.

The John Locke Foundation is a 501(c)(3) research institute and is funded solely from voluntary contributions from individuals, corporations, and charitable foundations.