Benefit of Social Distancing Outweighs Economic Impact

Study found the benefits of social distancing policies will outweigh the economic costs by $5.2 trillion

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MONDAY, April 20, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- The economic benefits of lives saved through social distancing substantially outweigh the value of the projected losses to the U.S. economy, according to a study to be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis.

Linda Thunström, Ph.D., from the University of Wyoming in Laramie, and colleagues used epidemiological and economic forecasting to perform a rapid benefit-cost analysis of controlling the COVID-19 outbreak.

With the assumption that social distancing measures can substantially reduce contacts among individuals, the researchers found that net benefits reached about $5.2 trillion in the benchmark case. Critical parameters that might imply negative net benefits include the value of statistical life and the discount rate. The speed of economic recovery with and without social distancing measures in place is a key unknown factor. Social distancing measures currently in place 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.

"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," according to the authors. "To avoid these in the future, there are likely large social benefits to ensuring that we are better prepared for the next pandemic."

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