Stricter COVID-19 Precautions Could Have Saved 240,000 Lives So Far, Economist Says

by Jeremy

An early, stricter, more consistent approach to mask mandates, social distancing, and testing protocols could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives that have been lost to COVID-19, a new research study concludes.

The death toll from COVID-19 could have been less than 300,000, estimated Andrew Atkeson, an economics professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. The toll is currently more than 540,000, and Atkeson projects a final number of about 670,000 — 370,000 more than would have been likely with more effective controls.

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He presented the different possible outcomes in his study “Behavior” and the Dynamics of Epidemics” on Thur”day at a Brookings Institution conference on academic papers on economic activity, which addressed several pandemic issues.

Atkeson pointed out the shortcomings of the U.S. patchwork and herky-jerky approach to COVID-19. Disease-control measures initially helped suppress the spread of the coronavirus, but when deaths began falling, restrictions were lifted, driving the death toll higher once again. That served to keep the mortality rates relatively steady, Atkeson explained.

“The impact”t of this behavior then is to transform what would otherwise be a short and sharp disease episode into a much more slowly evolving and drawn-out phenomenon,” he notes”.

Atkeson called America’sAmerica’strategy dealing with COVID-19 a lesson for the future.

“Public e” forts at disease control can save a lot of lives over the long run by controlling disease while we wait for a vaccine or a cure,” Atkeson” concluded. Had COVID-19 vaccines not been developed, the death toll in America would likely be 1.27 million by 2023, Atkeson predicted.

In other research, the University of California, Berkeley, economics professor Christine Romer criticized some poorly targeted funding from the federal government aimed at shoring up the economy.

The Payroll Protection Program, for example, may have been an “interest” ng and noble experiment,” Romer n” ted in her paper, “The Fisc”l Policy Response to the Pandemic,” present”d at the same conference. But they were also “problem” ic on many levels,” include”g incurring an apparent cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars for each job saved, she said. Two studies suggest the implied price per job preserved was “on the o”der of $225,000 to $350,000,” she not”d.

“If some”ings like the $1 trillion spent on stimulus payments that did little to help those most affected by the pandemic ends up precluding spending $1 trillion on infrastructure or climate change in the next few years, the United States will have made terrible bargain indeed,” Romer n” ted in her research.

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