Friday, July 17, 2020

COVID-19 Death Rates Fall as Infections Rise: State Shutdowns Hurt Economies, but Not COVID-19

The media and politicians are fixating on the rapid rise in COVID-19 infections. As a result, many medical experts, politicians and pundits are calling for shutdowns of state economies experiencing the greatest growth in infections. 

Before taking this drastic action, two questions should be examined: 1) will the latest infections generate the negative outcomes as in previous months and 2) will the negative economic impacts of shutdowns exceed the positive health outcomes from economic lockdowns?

The latest CDC data show that deaths per 10,000 infections have declined from 1,315 on March 7 to 8.9 on July 7. From this data, some assert (but it's not yet proven) that higher infection rates are due to:
  1. the opening up of state economies, which has encouraged young individuals, who are less likely to suffer negative health consequences from COVID-19, to continue with normal living, and 
  2. an increase in testing rates that now uncover individuals with the infection, but little or no negative health outcomes.  
  3. lower deaths are due to older individuals with other health issues to take greater precautions in daily living (e.g. social distancing), 
  4. improved treatment of COVID-19 illnesses.
Others argue a lag exists between infections and deaths with today's soaring infection rates leading to zooming death rates ahead. However, the accompanying chart shows that death rates are clearly trending lower even after controlling for the delay between infection and death declining from 267 April deaths per 10,000 March infections to 34 June deaths per 10,000 May infections.

Did State Lockdowns Work?  The 42 states and D.C. that implemented shelter-in-place directives experienced a 10.1% increase in their insured unemployment rates between the first week in March until the second week in June compared to a lower 6.6% increase during the same time period for the 9 states that did not shut down. Using simple linear regression, it is concluded that each 30 days of shutdown was associated with a one percentage point increase in the insured unemployment rate. In terms of infections and deaths per 10,000 for March - June, shelter-in-place states experienced median infection rates of 60.0 compared to a higher 73.6 for non-shelter-in-place states, while non-shelter-in-place states suffered a lower death rate of 1.2 compared to 2.4 for shelter-in-place states. None of the differences were statistically significant.

Summary  In the back-of-the-envelope calculations in this essay it was concluded that while COVID-19 infections are expanding dramatically yet COVID-19 death rates month ahead death rates per infection are in fact declining. 

Furthermore, it is concluded that shelter-in-place, while having a statistically significant impact on increasing insured unemployment rates, had no statistically significant impact on COVID-19 infection rates or death rates. (All analysis available on request

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