If it’s Monday, it must be time for Dr. Christine Blackburn’s update on COVID-19, and, today she had Dr. Raymond Robertson, Chair in Economics and Government in the Department of International Affairs at the Bush School of Government and Public Service and the Director of the Mosbacher Institute for Trade, Economics, and Public Policy.
Dr. Blackburn began by highlighting a trend noted by doctors: young people–those not typically in mortal danger from COVID-19–are developing blood clots while afflicted by the virus. In many cases, the virus is what would be considered a light case, so victims might not go to the doctor’s or hospital, but making such a trip, if for no other reason than to ask about a blood thinner, might be warranted.
Dr Robertson discussed the economic impact of COVID-19, noting that an unprecedented number of people have filed for unemployment over the past month. While he observed that this is, in and of itself, sufficiently bad, he explored ways that it could get worse. Globally, all economies are being hit by this pandemic, but the US is struggling in particular, and its struggles could ramify throughout the world: by buying fewer products–most of which are produced elsewhere–the contraction of the US economy leads to shrinkage elsewhere. In addition, it’s possible that some of the job losses could be permanent.
On the plus side, Robertson said that the number of unemployment claims has declined for the past three weeks, and, if businesses can re-open in the next few weeks, it’s likely that many of those jobs will not be permanently lost.
The duo also took questions. For Dr. Blackburn, the question was asked, will serology tests allow people to return to work in large companies (such as TAMU)? Dr. Blackburn responded cautiously, noting: (1) it will take a lot of tests to test all the people who need to be tested in such a scenario; (2) there are concerns about such tests and their false positives–which means the test says you have had COVID, but you actually haven’t; and (3) the medical community has not established definitively that having had COVID leads to immunity. She added that with similar viruses, the immunity has only lasted for a matter of months, not permanently.
Dr. Robertson was asked a particularly tough question: how much is a life valued in economic terms? That is, how much of a “hit” should we take on the economy to save lives? Interestingly, he said that the EPA actually has such a number: 10,000,000 dollars. He further pointed out that when you compare the number of lives lost thus far (56,000) to the amount of money we’ve spent to try to repair the economy (2 trillion), it comes out to about 53 million per person–or, about 5 times the amount the government typically uses as a “value” on human life.
He did point out that such a calculation is cold comfort if the person lost is close to you, and he highlighted the importance of this discussion and weighing these competing values.
It was, as usual, an informative Monday with the Bush School!