University Of Wyoming Economists Find A $5.2 Trillion Benefit In Staying Home

Apr 23, 2020

States in the Mountain West have seen protests against stay-at-home orders in recent days. Those protesters generally argue that the so-called cure to COVID-19 is worse than the disease itself. A recent analysis by University of Wyoming economists says otherwise.

The cost-benefit analysis suggests that the benefits of social distancing - saving lives - far outweigh the damage to the U.S. economy.

UW economics professor Linda Thunstrom, who led the research, said her team looked at models that predict the spread of the novel coronavirus with and without social distancing, and then looked at how those two different models would affect gross domestic product. They found the net benefits of social distancing to be $5.2 trillion.

"You have people saying, 'This makes no sense at all, and I just lost my job, and I just lost my livelihood.' So I think it really is important that we do these kinds of analyses and we communicate them well," Thunstrom said.

The analysis was based on the statistical value of one human life being $10 million, a measure widely used by economists and the U.S. government.

"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," the researchers 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."

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Kamila Kudelska, at kkudelsk@uwyo.edu.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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