CASPER, Wyo. — Aggressive social distancing policies and measures, in the wake of the coronavirus caused COVID-19 global pandemic, are justified. This, according to an analysis released by University of Wyoming researchers.
The potential benefits of social distancing outweigh the projected damage to the economy, according to the economists from the Department of Economics in the UW College of Business. The team’s research, which has received widespread attention in national and international media outlets, will appear in the Journal of Benefit Cost Analysis.
“Our benefit-cost analysis shows that the extensive social distancing measures being adopted in the U.S. likely do not constitute an overreaction,” says Assistant Professor Linda Thunstrom, lead author of the article. “Social distancing saves lives but comes at large costs to society due to reduced economic activity. Still, based on our benchmark assumptions, the economic benefits of lives saved substantially outweigh the value of the projected losses to the U.S. economy.”
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According to the economic analysis; assuming that social distancing measures are adopted widely enough to substantially reduce contacts among individuals, the benefits of those policies could outweigh the economic costs by $5.2 trillion.
Joining Thunstrom in conducting the analysis were Assistant Professor Stephen Newbold, Professors David Finnoff and Jason Shogren, and graduate student Madison Ashworth, of Star Valley.
The university says the team used the most up-to-date information on disease spread and effects on economic activity to conduct the analysis.
“It should be possible to conduct a more detailed analysis after more data are available,” Newbold says. “But a rapid assessment, based on the best currently available information, adds much-needed rigor to the public discussion about the policy response to this outbreak.”
Attempts to slow the rate of COVID-19 infections have led many governments around the world to issue unprecedented public policies and guidelines to increase social distance within and across countries. Those measures include closing schools and businesses, suspending some services, imposing broad travel restrictions, and urging citizens to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people.
These policies have drawn their fair share of criticism, drawing Wyoming citizens out from social isolation and into public protests. Protestors at a demonstration in Casper last week, called for Wyoming’s Governor, Mark Gordon, to lift restrictions and closures. The protestors offered no alternative plan, except expressing a desire that businesses be left to decide and that citizens be responsible for their own health.
UW cites a recent forecast by Goldman Sachs predicting that nationwide closures and restrictions will cause the nation’s gross domestic product to shrink by more than 6 percent this year, even with substantial government stimulus efforts.
“Already, the country is seeing declines in economic activity and dramatic increases in unemployment, with a particular impact on vulnerable low-income workers,” the UW statement said.
The university’s economists’ analysis reportedly takes into account the potential impact of COVID-19 on the U.S. healthcare system. The university says that, based on previous studies by other researchers, it is estimated that the current social distancing measures across the country will reduce the average contact rate among individuals by 38 percent, which reduces the peak of the infection curve by more than half.
“This would help to avoid overwhelming the health care system and keep the mortality rate lower than the worst-case scenarios,” the university said. “The economists note that their analysis doesn’t examine the impacts of social distancing policies on specific segments of the U.S. population.”
“It stands to reason that the most vulnerable groups in society will be the hardest hit. For example, the service industry will be disproportionately affected by these policies, which will lead to mass layoffs of low-income workers,” the researchers wrote. “It also is likely that the most economically disadvantaged groups will suffer the most severe adverse health consequences from COVID-19.”
In theory, the disparate impact of the epidemic and social distancing measures could be addressed “with appropriate redistributions of resources,” they wrote.
The analysis also doesn’t consider how the current social distancing measures might affect the probability of a second wave of COVID-19 infections. “Instead, we implicitly assume that aggressive social distancing measures buy enough time to develop and distribute cost-effective COVID-19 treatments or vaccines, should a second wave occur,” the economists wrote.
“Our analysis suggests that the aggressive social distancing policies currently promoted in the U.S. probably are justified, given that no good contingency plans were in place for an epidemic of this magnitude,” they wrote. “But the costs and consequences will be painful. To avoid these in the future, there are likely large social benefits to ensuring that we are better prepared for the next pandemic.”
The Latest Statistics from the Wyoming Department of Health:
What to do if you are feeling sick: In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Casper-Natrona County Health Department says that people who are feeling sick or exhibiting symptoms should contact their primary physician.
If you do not have a primary care provider, and live in Natrona County, please contact the COVID-19 hotline, operated by the Casper-Natrona County Department of Health. The line is open Monday – Friday 8:00 am – 5:00 pm 577-9892. Hotline services are intended for Natrona County residents and may not be able to provide specific information to persons calling from out of county.
Officials ask that you please do not self-report to the Emergency Room. Persons experiencing problems breathing should call 9-11.
For general inquiries and non-symptom related questions about COVID-19, please contact the Casper-Natrona County Health Department via email: email@example.com
- Practice Social Distancing by putting distance between yourself and other people. This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Stay home if you’re sick
- Cover coughs and sneezes. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow.
- Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.
A list of area closures attributed to COVID-19 are available here.