Pitting public health against economic health through a simple trade-off (saving lives vs. saving the economy) is unhelpful and simply not accurate.
Something that gets lost in public conversation is how interdependent the two are. Health systems know that financial health is a critical part of people’s well-being. On the flip side, the financial community knows that having healthy workers and families is vital for productivity and viability. It’s just time to get the public (and policy makers) to understand the interdependence.
A study was just published that asked: Do nationwide shut-downs negatively impact the economy? Scientists compared spending patterns (bank records of more than 800,000 people) in Denmark (who had strict shut-down) compared to spending patterns in Sweden (who didn’t have a lock down). And yes, they compared spending patterns AFTER taking into account things like stock market indexes, unemployment claims, cross-country spending, time of year, etc., etc..
What did they find?
- There was only a 4% difference in spending between the two countries (Denmark saw a 29% drop in spending; and Sweden saw a 25% drop in spending) after the pandemic was declared
- There was a bigger drop in spending among 18-29 years olds in Denmark compared to Sweden. In other words, a shutdown constrains the young, who in the absence of a shutdown, would contribute the most to spreading the disease
- There was a bigger drop in spending among 70+ year olds in Sweden compared to Denmark. In other words, a shutdown contained the spread of the disease and reduce the need for extreme isolation among the most at risk (and reduced mortality).
Translation? Social distancing laws only cause small losses in the economy while having major benefits on morbidity and mortality. Instead, the virus itself causes economic turmoil (people cut back on consumption, cut back on work due to personal health risks, social norms, or a sense of civic duty). By reducing the spread of disease quickly (through shut downs in this case), more people will be comfortable with going outside, spending money, and working.
How does this apply to other countries? The authors comment on this too. Unfortunately, in the US, we have three things going against us:
- Our national “strategy” is a long, drawn out, uncoordinated response
- Lack of social insurance policies
- A diverse range of civic and social responsibility
The authors state, “A combination of these factors may correlate with reductions in economic activity and, hence, results in the impact of government-mandated shutdowns.”
Love, your local epidemiologist
Data Source: Sheridan et al. (Aug 2020). Social Distancing Laws Cause Only Small Losses of Economic Activity during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Scandinavia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2010068117