Embracing Facts Over Fear: Coronavirus In Life Years

Embracing Facts Over Fear: Coronavirus In Life Years
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As of May 17, about 91,000 lives have been lost to the coronavirus.  Notably, those aged 65 or older accounted for 80 percent of these deaths and residents or employees of long-term care facilities accounted for one third of all deaths.  Based on life-expectancy and taking into account that 90 percent of all coronavirus deaths had one or more co-morbidity factors, an estimated 800,000 life-years have been lost. 

This is about half the number of life-years lost to the 38,000 motor vehicle driver fatalities in 2018.  The reason for this disparity is simple.  The median age of coronavirus fatalities is 81, while the median age of driver fatalities is about 40 years.

To put it in an even clearer prospective, someone aged 45-54 has the same likelihood of dying in motor vehicular accident in one year as from the current coronavirus pandemic.  And someone aged 35-44 is about one quarter as likely to die in such an accident as from the coronavirus pandemic.

It would take a doubling of deaths due to coronavirus to equal the driver life-years lost in 2018 due to vehicular deaths.

What does this mean from a policy perspective?

First, stop the multi-trillion dollar bailouts. Quit shutting down large swaths of the economy and paying people not to work. Instead, aggressively reopen the economy in those states and counties that have warmer temperatures, low case and death rates per capita, declining case levels, and minimal mass transit.  And of course, we should implement best health practices and protect those living or working in nursing homes, food processing facilities, and prisons.

Second, in places historically reliant on mass transit, focus on removing the friction that prevents employees from returning to work.  Consider providing a business’s employees and self-employed individuals a tax credit of up to $1000/month for 3 months to be used to pay for parking, ride-sharing and taxis, rental cars, tolls, and gasoline. And, there is a large surplus capacity for each of these today.  This would also help take demand pressure off of mass transit operators.  The cost would be $30 billion for say 10 million currently unemployed individuals.

Third, places like California are mired in shut down orders and slow re-openings. According to data from Safegraph, San Francisco’s level of foot traffic has recovered to only 42 percent since its low of 33 percent in mid-April.  Los Angeles is in a similar situation. Compare this to Dallas, where foot traffic is at 66 percent, up from 42 percent in mid-April. Atlanta and Houston have posted similar gains. Why is this happening, given that California is 33rd and 29th lowest respectively in cases and deaths per capita? 

Fourth, get the facts straight about so-called spurts in cases and deaths.  A May 14 headline about Texas blared: State reports largest daily increases in cases and deaths. Ignored was that Texas, the second largest state, is 39th and 40th lowest respectively in cases and deaths per capita.  Also ignored was the fact that more than 16K prisoners and staff had been checked for COVID-19 in first 3 days of self-testing. Or that, thousands of Texas nursing home residents have tested positive for coronavirus.  

Fifth, accelerate access to so-called elective medical treatments. According to foot-traffic data from Safegraph, hospitals are only at about 60 percent of normal activity. Elective surgery only means you get to choose a date, not that it isn’t potentially life-threatening. 

Americans want to go back to work.  It is time to let them again exercise their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Edward J. Pinto is a Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. 

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