Coronavirus has taken far too many lives. Recent statistics suggest that over 400,000 Americans have died from the pandemic. However, if authors from Duke University, Harvard Medical School, and Johns Hopkins University business school are correct, then the reaction to the pandemic could be even deadlier than the virus itself.
Fortune reports that this latest study finds that “the total lives lost to the virus in the U.S. may far exceed those immediately related to the acute COVID-19 critical illness. …The recession caused by the pandemic can jeopardize population health for the next two decades.”
According to the article, “the authors wondered how unemployment affects mortality and life expectancy years later. Little research on that question existed, so they conducted their own analysis using 67 years of data about unemployment, life expectancy, and death rates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They were able to separate the effects of the unprecedented 2020 unemployment spike from other factors that affect mortality and life expectancy.”
The authors concluded that, over the next 20 years, 1.37 million more people will die than would have died without the unemployment crisis caused by the pandemic. The unemployment rate spiked from nearly the lowest in 50 years to the highest since the measurement system began in 1948. It has since decreased but is still holding at the highest since the recovery from the 2008–09 financial crisis.
“Based on emerging data,” the researchers say, “it is likely that the limited access to health care during the lockdown, temporary discontinuation of preventive care interventions, massive loss of employer-provided health insurance coverage, and the lingering concern of the population about seeking medical care out of fear of contracting COVID-19 will impact mortality rate and life expectancy even more severely than predicted.”
This study puts some of the blame squarely on policymakers. Though the virus caused much of the carnage, mayors and governors exacerbated the problem, forcing businesses across the country to shut down and people to stay locked in their homes.
The researchers do note that they are not suggesting policymakers refrain from lockdowns but that they should provide more enhanced health and economic support for vulnerable portions of the population.
The Fortune report, however, is much more direct, asking the complicated question, “if it turns out that the economic suffering, while saving lives in the near term, also costs lives in later years, then what is the right policy response?”
Just last week, it was revealed that school districts have seen a frightening rise in the number of student suicides. In Clark County, the fifth-largest school district in the U.S., 18 students have committed suicide in the past year. To mitigate this problem, Clark County introduced a plan to phase students back to in-person learning.
Aside from suicide, COVID-19 lockdowns also have other long-term social risks. Brian Kilmeade discusses the social effects of officials “lazily” canceling high school sports:
— johnny dollar (@johnnydollar01) December 2, 2020
We may never know the true long-term ramifications of the COVID recession.
As Geoff Colvin writes, “We mostly know who is dying of COVID-19 itself, those depressing numbers, each accompanied by a name, drive a sense of urgency as we fight back. In coming decades, we will never know exactly whose lives have been shortened by the economic distress the pandemic caused. But that suffering will be just as real and shouldn’t be forgotten or ignored.”