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Coronavirus lockdowns led to the outbreak of a completely separate disease

Published Jun 11th, 2020 10:12PM EDT
Coronavirus lockdowns
Image: Francis Chandler/AP/Shutterstock

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  • A new unfortunate cost associated with the coronavirus lockdowns has emerged, with experts pointing to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease as being a byproduct of the lockdowns that were implemented in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • For a variety of reasons, this disease thrives in places like abandoned office buildings, which emptied out quickly as everyone started working from home.
  • This is why judging the lockdowns is not so simple as calling them good or bad — researchers have also found that they spared the US from many millions of more coronavirus cases, as well.

The gradual reversal of coronavirus lockdowns and an easing of other safety measures implemented at businesses and in cities and states around the US is well underway now, even as the toll from the COVID-19 pandemic continues to climb in the US. Indeed, more than 2 million coronavirus infections have now been identified in the US as of Thursday, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University (which also shows that more than 113,000 reported deaths in the US have been attributable to the coronavirus to-date). Everyone is now trying to figure out how to reopen safely and learn how to “live” with the virus, essentially. Additionally, we’re also starting to get retroactive analysis of the lockdowns, trying to decide if they were worth it and to what degree they did the job.

A number of governors around the country, for example, think there’s no political appetite anymore for the kinds of draconian, near-absolute shutdowns of communities around the US, even with coronavirus cases on the rise. At the same time, researchers from the University of Berkley have analyzed the coronavirus responses of six countries, including China, France, Italy, Iran, South Korea, and the US, and they concluded that the health policies the governments implemented to prevent COVID-19 transmission were able to control the spread to a degree and prevent additional infections. In the US alone, the researchers think the coronavirus lockdowns prevented 60 million extra cases of the virus. Meanwhile, here’s yet another reason why it’s a little difficult to quantify the value of the lockdowns, on balance.

Once the lockdowns were implemented, lots of facilities like office buildings emptied out. And that, according to one health expert, has allowed Legionnaires’ disease to thrive — which, ironically, has symptoms similar to those associated with COVID-19. Both, for example, are associated with fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath, to name a few symptoms.

“Legionnaires’ does not spread from person-to-person but causes large community outbreaks through contaminated airborne water droplets from sources including showerheads, taps, cooling towers, air-conditioning systems, spa pools, hot tubs, and water fountains,” according to Anne Clayson, associate professor in occupational hygiene and occupational health at the University of Manchester, per Medical Daily.

This is why the lockdowns contributed to this unexpected outbreak: The Medical Daily news outlet also explains that L. pneumophila ordinarily live in warm environments and feed on “pipework sludge and sediment.” And when you have a long stretch of inactivity in a building, that’s a great environment in which the bacteria can breed — and, eventually, contaminate water systems.

To combat this, Clayson says that public and private officials should require a comprehensive assessment of water systems everywhere from offices to schools and factories in order to reduce the risks associated with this new disease outbreak.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.