Costlier Than War: Researchers Put Pandemic’s Price Tag at $16 Trillion

People wearing masks to protect against Covid-19 exit a subway station in the Queens borough of New York City on Oct. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

(CN) — The coronavirus pandemic could wind up costing the U.S. more than $16 trillion, a toll that would be costlier than all the wars the nation has fought since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and on par with expected long-term losses from global climate change, Harvard University researchers said in an analysis released Monday.

In the paper, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the researchers estimated that the U.S. could see about $7.6 trillion in direct economic losses from the pandemic in the form of lost gross domestic product.

Notably, a greater amount of financial pain – more than $8 trillion – of the total cost could come from economic losses associated with higher rates of deaths and long-term health and mental health problems.

“You know that the cost is big, but then when you just start to add it up, how big it is is really sort of shocking,” David Cutler, a Harvard economist and lead author on the analysis, said in an interview.

The analysis underscores the long road ahead the nation faces to a full economic recovery, particularly as that recovery slows and Congress remains mired in partisan clashes over a possible next round of stimulus money.

“Already the recovery from the shock in the spring is starting to fade,” Cutler said. “We got a lot of people back to work, but we’re slowing down well, well below potential.” 

Talks over a new stimulus package remained stuck in political limbo on Monday, after both Democrats and Republicans signaled opposition to President Trump’s $1.8 trillion offer.

The Harvard analysis noted that the nation likely would have plunged into another Great Depression were it not for the first round of government stimulus spending in the early days of the pandemic.

As of Monday, more than 214,000 people have died from Covid-19 in the U.S., according to figures from Johns Hopkins University. Globally, more than 338,000 new infections were reported on Friday, a record daily increase since the pandemic began.

Pointing to the prospect of U.S. coronavirus deaths more than doubling in the months ahead, the Harvard researchers asserted that the cost of conducting more widespread testing, contact tracing and isolation enforcement would be offset by the number of new infections that would be prevented.

“It’s clear that at some point it’s just like, of course you should do it,” Cutler said. “Both the economic benefits in terms of increased income, and the economic benefits in terms of people [being] healthier, living longer…they’re both just immense.”

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