A Bit of Good News
What Do We Do Now?
The Risk of a COVID-19 Spike and the Federal Reserve
It Is Time to Open Up the Economy, Slowly
Simply discussing COVID-19 will undoubtedly make this letter controversial and, in some circles, political. That is not my intent. I truly believe that something affecting all of us so deeply should be kept in the scientific realm to the extent possible, not the political. Sadly, that is not the case today in many countries.
My theme today is on the pandemic’s future economic impact, especially in the United States. It is relatively easy to look back and see what happened, but I am more interested in future responses. In the US, we have tried a wide variety of experiments in various states over the past six months, some which seem to have worked and some that have been less effective.
I am going to make some suggestions about how we move from here. I can guarantee you that no one will be happy with everything I write. This is an emotional issue. What follows are just my feelings and observations.
In general, here is what we have learned.
First, the median age of fatalities seems to be around 80. Deaths below that age level are highly associated with one or more conditions like obesity, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, a weakened immune system, etc. Deaths among those under 20 are quite rare.
The estimated Infection Fatality Rate is close to zero for younger adults but rises sharply with age, reaching about 0.3% for ages 50–59, 1.3% for ages 60–69, 4% for ages 70–79, and 10% for ages 80–89.
That is not to say that every death does not matter, and when it is your loved one, it is tragic. I get that. Truly, I do. But according to CDC data, only about 6% of COVID-19 deaths were from COVID-19 alone. All the others had at least one comorbidity associated with them and, on average, all US deaths had 2.6 additional conditions.
Second, the lockdowns created a depression-like economic reaction in the first quarter and even though the economy has rebounded, it is still in severe recession territory. It’s impossible to say otherwise when over 800,000 are people still applying for unemployment benefits every week.
Third, both health and economic impacts have skewed toward those of lower income and ability to recover. Those of us lucky enough to have jobs where we can work from home have seen relatively less damage, and in some cases even improvement, at least from an employment standpoint.
With the benefit of hindsight, I am sure that we would’ve made different choices in terms of our response to the disease. It would’ve been nice to have a stockpile of N95 masks and other PPE gear. Efforts are underway to remedy that problem, but those will likely take years to actually prove successful.