Reopening states will cause 233,000 more people to die from coronavirus, according to Wharton model

New data from the University of Pennsylvania suggests that relaxing lockdowns across U.S. cities and states could have serious consequences for the country’s battle to contain the coronavirus, which has infected over a million people while killing more than 66,000 people.

According to the Penn Wharton Budget Model (PWBM), reopening states will result in an additional 233,000 deaths from the virus — even if states don’t reopen at all and with social distancing rules in place. This means that if the states were to reopen, 350,000 people in total would die from coronavirus by the end of June, the study found.

Kent Smetters, the PWBM’s director, said the decision to reopen states is ultimately a “normative judgement that comes down to the statistical value of life.”

He explained: “That’s not a crude way of saying we put a dollar value on life, but it’s the idea that people will take risks all the time for economic reward.”

That figure far surpasses estimates and models that the White House has cited from the University of Washington, which put the death toll at roughly 73,000 by the start of August.

The U.S. economy is reeling as statewide lockdowns have thrown 30 million Americans out of their jobs, and stoked a furious debate about how long the restrictions can remain in place. Some states, like Georgia, are choosing to partially reopen, allowing businesses like restaurants, hair salons, massage parlors, and more to open again.

However, partially reopening would also cause the death toll to rise, the university’s data found. An additional 45,000 lives would be lost, according to Wharton’s Budget Model, bringing the U.S.’s death toll from COVID-19 to 222,000.

However, the policy of reopening states would provide a much needed economic boost, according to the model.

“Almost all net job losses between May 1 and June 30 would be eliminated,” the report found.

Keeping stay at home orders in place would result in a growth contraction of 11.6% year over year, the data found, but opening the states would curb some of that decline somewhat, paring back the downturn to 10.1% year over year.

However, Wharton’s data found that the state lockdowns will result in a more dramatic increase in unemployment, boosting the total of unemployed to nearly 50 million. A partial reopening would partly blunt that impact, but not by much.

In a bright spot for the plan to open states, the PWBM projects that almost all net job losses would be eliminated.

The model aims to quantify the trade-off to the economic benefits of reopening states amid the coronavirus pandemic that has killed nearly 240,000 people worldwide, with some 60,000 deaths in the United States. 

The PWBM shows that when it comes to states’ plans to reopen their economies, not all states are created equal. One state’s decision could cause more damage than another.

If Colorado were to fully open, for example, the PWBM projected that by the end of June over 10,000 would die from coronavirus. That’s much higher than neighboring Kansas, where roughly 1,300 would lose their lives to COVID-19 under the same scenario.

And when it comes to economies, if Wisconsin stays closed, GDP would decline by 13%, compared to 10.8% in Maine. 

“You may look at some states and say ‘You know what, they’re not ready to reopen yet,’” Smetters said. 

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