Economic Shutdown Is Estimated to Save 600,000 American Lives

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump is considering easing health directives that prevent the spread of the coronavirus in an attempt to contain economic fallout. A new analysis suggests that those measures are helping to save hundreds of thousands of lives.

Economists led by Northwestern University’s Martin Eichenbaum wrote that keeping social-distancing measures in place before the number of new virus cases declines -- in other words, before a peak in the infection rate -- could limit infections and prevent as many as 600,000 additional U.S. deaths.

While the economic damage is deeper when optimal health measures are taken, a recession is unavoidable even without them, as infected people would stay at home to recover and millions die, the report shows.

“There is an inevitable trade-off between the severity of the recession and the health consequences of the epidemic,” the economists wrote in a working paper distributed this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Under a worst-case scenario, with stores remaining open and no social isolation policies, as many as 215 million Americans could become infected and 2.2 million could die from the spread of the virus, the economists’ data shows.

That’s based on an estimate from German Chancellor Angela Merkel that up to 70% of that country’s population could become infected without a vaccine. It also matches the worst-case global estimate from Harvard University epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch.

The Trump administration issued guidelines March 16 for Americans to follow in combating the spread of the coronavirus for 15 days, and that period ends at the end of the month.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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