one kiss from Trump could be worth $80 million in COVID infection

Harvard economists estimate the cumulative financial costs of the COVID-19 pandemic. The fiscal conservatives' pandemic cost $16 Trillion for the US, about 90% of the country's GDP.

If anything, you’d think fiscal conservatives, some of whom might even harbor liberal cultural/social notions, might be very angry at the waste caused by Trump’s epidemic incompetence. If anything, more Fox News viewers, specifically Sean Hannity’s, have contracted COVID than other news viewers. Even as each death is now worth $80 million.

Trump says he’s now immune from coronavirus and ready to kiss anyone in his Florida rally audience.

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Recessions feed on themselves. Workers not at work have less to spend, and thus subsequent business revenue declines. The federal government offset much of the initial loss owing to the shutdown, which has averted what would likely have been a new Great Depression. But the virus is ongoing, and thus full recovery is not expected until well into the future. The Congressional Budget Office projects a total of $7.6 trillion in lost output during the next decade.1

Lower output is not the only economic cost of COVID-19; death and reduced quality of life also can be measured in economic terms. To date, approximately 200 000 deaths have been directly attributable to COVID-19; many more will doubtless occur. In the US, approximately 5000 COVID-19 deaths are occurring per week and the estimated effective reproduction number (Rt [ie, the average number of people who become infected by a person with SARS-CoV-2 infection]) is approximately 1. If these rates continue, another 250 000 deaths can be expected in the next year. Seasonal factors could increase mortality, although whether COVID-19 will display a large seasonal pattern is unknown. In addition to COVID-19 deaths, studies suggest increased deaths from other causes, amounting to almost 40% of COVID-19–related deaths. Thus, if the current trajectories continue, an estimated 625 000 cumulative deaths associated with the pandemic will occur through next year in the US.

Although putting a value on a given human life is impossible, economists have developed the technique of valuing “statistical lives”; that is, measuring how much it is worth to people to reduce their risk of mortality or morbidity. This approach has been used as a standard in US regulatory policy and in discussions of global health policy.2

There is a lengthy economic literature assessing the value of a statistical life; for example, in environmental and health regulation. Although no single number is universally accepted, ranges are often used. In environmental and health policy,3 for example, a statistical life is assumed to be worth $10 million. With a more conservative value of $7 million per life, the economic cost of premature deaths expected through the next year is estimated at $4.4 trillion.

Some individuals who survive COVID-19 are likely to have significant long-term complications, including respiratory, cardiac, and mental health disorders, and may have an increased risk of premature death. Data from survivors of COVID-19 suggest that long-term impairment occurs for approximately one-third of survivors with severe or critical disease.4 Because there are approximately 7 times as many survivors from severe or critical COVID-19 disease as there are COVID-19 deaths, long-term impairment might affect more than twice as many people as the number of people who die.

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The Rockefeller Foundation estimates that a policy of 30 million tests weekly would require an additional $75 billion in spending during the next year10; adding the cost of contact tracing might bring the total to approximately $100 billion.

Congress is currently discussing whether to provide economic support to mitigate the economic damage caused by COVID with legislation following up on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The highest-return investments that should be included in such legislation are increased testing and contact tracing. A minimum of 5% of any COVID economic relief intervention should be devoted to such health measures.

More generally, the immense financial loss from COVID-19 suggests a fundamental rethinking of government’s role in pandemic preparation. Currently, the US prioritizes spending on acute treatment, with far less spending on public health services and infrastructure. As the nation struggles to recover from COVID-19, investments that are made in testing, contact tracing, and isolation should be established permanently and not dismantled when the concerns about COVID-19 begin to recede.

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— Max Roser (@MaxCRoser) October 12, 2020

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— Bloomberg (@business) October 12, 2020

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— Sleeping Giants (@slpng_giants) October 8, 2020

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— Alex Thomas (@AlexThomas) October 12, 2020

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— The New York Times (@nytimes) October 10, 2020

The SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) pandemic is the greatest threat to prosperity and well-being the US has encountered since the Great Depression. This Viewpoint aggregates mortality, morbidity, mental health conditions, and direct economic losses to estimate the total cost of the pandemic in the US on the optimistic assumption that it will be substantially contained by the fall of 2021. These costs far exceed those associated with conventional recessions and the Iraq War, and are similar to those associated with global climate change. However, increased investment in testing and contact tracing could have economic benefits that are at least 30 times greater than the estimated costs of the investment in these approaches.

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— VANITY FAIR (@VanityFair) October 12, 2020

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— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) October 8, 2020

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— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) October 12, 2020

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