Economist: Chicago's COVID-19 shutdown was too broad

A professor at the University of Chicago claims the city could have saved the same number of lives from the coronavirus with a smaller shutdown that would have killed far fewer jobs.

It is a debate with huge implications for any future lockdown.

Governor JB Pritzker said again Wednesday he fears COVID-19 could yet explode in a deadlier new wave, just as America’s last pandemic did a century ago.

“COVID-19 coronavirus is still out there. So people need to do everything they can,” Pritzker said.

But even as new infections and new deaths continue to fall in Illinois, 19 other states are seeing a deadly surge. If it strikes here, University of Chicago Professor John Birge says any new lockdown must be carefully targeted. If cities like Chicago and New York had done that in round one, he says hundreds of thousands of jobs and many businesses that are now gone could have been saved.

“Based on all we know from the data, it would have been able to work and save New York, for example, from having increases in their infection rates without having the high levels of unemployment that we've seen,” said Birge.

While the study's recommendations are forward-looking and based on widespread testing not previously available, Mayor Lori Lightfoot saw them as an unfair attack.

“The premise of the question is that we would have known ahead of time where it would hit, how it would hit, and therefore we would have tailored our response accordingly. That just defies logic,” the mayor said.

Implementing the study's recommendations could inflame racial tensions: keep downtown businesses open while closing those in or near neighborhoods with heavy rates of infection, which would hit hard many blacks and Hispanics.