Crisis Control

A brief overview of some of COVID's ramifications on global society.
Crisis Control

World In Five is a five-minute read to bring you up to speed on some of the world's most recent and relevant issues.

As countries who are left unscathed by COVID are few and far between, the global financial ramifications have been severe and only look to worsen. According to estimates made by the United Nations, COVID will have cost the global economy more than $1 trillion US dollars by the end of 2020 [1]. Although all-encompassing dollar figures can provide some insight into the severity of the pandemic, they fail to inform us at a deeper level. This begs the question: What costs does this figure fail to capture?

As with any nominal summary statistic, this $1 trillion USD figure does not reflect distribution of the losses across society; though claims have been made that COVID is a societal equalizer as the disease does not discriminate between rich and poor, the figures suggest that it is anything but equitable. In fact, layoffs and cutbacks in the United States have exacerbated the country’s already rampant economic inequality; according to a study conducted by Pew in April, only 23% of lower-income Americans claimed that they possessed sufficient funds to meet 3 months’ worth of expenses [2]. Further, if unemployment rates reach 20%, a study published by the Urban Institute and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation suggest that between 25 and 43 million people could lose their health insurance [3], many of whom would have to rely on social safety nets such as Medicaid. However, access to Medicaid varies across the country as Republican states have enforced stricter eligibility for claimants. As a result, individuals of less economic means are more likely to be left without healthcare insurance.

""The figures suggest that [COVID] is anything but equitable."

Another “hidden” cost that summary statistics often fail to capture is the loss of human life. This discussion has become increasingly relevant as politicians and policy-makers scramble to weigh the pros and cons of opening the economy in a time of COVID; if an economy opens prematurely, the country will undoubtedly experience a surge in deaths. But if they open too late, the economic ramifications could be arguably worse. At which point does the economic suffering outweigh the damage dealt by COVID? This remains an extremely complex issue, but the possibility that such a point exists cannot be discounted according to research. A 1982 book titled “Corporate Flight: The Causes and Consequences of Economic Dislocation” reports results from their studies on the various societal ramifications of increasing unemployment. The authors found that in the United States in 1982, a 1% increase in the unemployment rate was associated with 37,000 deaths, 920 suicides, 650 homicides, 4,000 state mental hospital admissions and 3,300 state prison admissions [4]. While the authors highlight that these figures and relationships are statistically significant, they acknowledge that they are slightly outdated. Nonetheless, they provide the base for an informed discussion regarding the potential consequences of runaway unemployment due to the frozen economy. A last hidden cost imposed by COVID is that many patients who require emergency care are dissuaded from seeking treatment out of fear of contracting the disease. According to Public Health England, a government-run healthcare agency, emergency room visits halved from the start of the pandemic to late April when the data was collected [5]. Further, the British government has imposed tight restrictions on cancer screens in order to minimize congestion within the already backlogged healthcare system. While this will help alleviate the proliferation of COVID, approximately 2,700 fewer people are being diagnosed with cancer per week as a result [6]. A study by Cancer Research UK also found that roughly 6,000 fewer people were receiving chemotherapy thanat the beginning of lockdown due to the backlog and tighter restrictions [7].

The aforementioned arguments only address a few of COVID’s hidden costs, but they help establish an understanding that the consequences of governmental policy and citizens’ fearful sentiment in response to COVID are often multi-layered and nonobvious. Despite the difficulties in assessing the true cost of COVID, politicians and policy-makers maintain the duty to account for the health and safety of all groups during these times. While COVID has wedged policy-makers into making less-than-ideal decisions, and oftentimes involves choosing the lesser of two evils, they must continue to make efforts to balance care for all while simultaneously gearing their focus towards the most vulnerable members and groups of society.

References:

[1] United Nations. “This Is How Much the Coronavirus Will Cost the World's Economy, According to the UN.” World Economic Forum, 17 Mar. 2020, www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/coronavirus-covid-19-cost-economy-2020-un-trade-economics-pandemic/.

[2] Parker, Kim, et al. “About Half of Lower-Income Americans Report Household Job or Wage Loss Due to COVID-19.” Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends Project, 21 Apr. 2020, www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/04/21/about-half-of-lower-income-americans-report-household-job-or-wage-loss-due-to-covid-19/#many-adults-have-rainy-day-funds-but-shares-differ-widely-by-race-education-and-income.

[3] B, Garrett, and Gangopadhyaya A. “How the COVID-19 Recession Could Affect Health Insurance Coverage.” RWJF, 4 May 2020, www.rwjf.org/en/library/research/2020/05/how-the-covid-19-recession-could-affect-health-insurance-coverage.html.

[4] Crudele, John. “Is Unemployment Really as Deadly as Coronavirus?” New York Post, New York Post, 20 Apr. 2020, nypost.com/2020/04/20/explaining-the-link-between-unemployment-deaths-amid-coronavirus/.

[5]Triggle, Nick. “Coronavirus: What Is the Hidden Health Cost?” BBC News, BBC, 29 Apr. 2020, www.bbc.com/news/health-52461034.

[6] Triggle, Nick. “Coronavirus: What Is the Hidden Health Cost?” BBC News, BBC, 29 Apr. 2020, www.bbc.com/news/health-52461034.

[7] Roberts, Katie. “Over 2 Million People Waiting for Cancer Screening, Tests and Treatments.” Cancer Research UK - Science Blog, 1 June 2020, scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2020/06/01/impact-of-coronavirus-on-cancer-services-revealed-over-2-million-people-waiting-for-screening-tests-and-treatments/.

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