- The Washington Times - Friday, May 1, 2020

Fully reopening the economy now would cost more than 230,000 more lives — but would save perhaps 18 million jobs that will be lost if the country remains shut down through June 30, according to new calculations from the Penn Wharton Budget Model.

A bad economy and more than 100,000 COVID-19 deaths are already inevitable, given the current state of spread of the coronavirus and the shutdown orders previously in place.

But just how bad it will get, and the trade-off in lives saved, depends on whether and how fast states start to reopen, and how closely Americans adhere to social distancing, said the PWBM, a nonpartisan economic analysis outfit at the University of Pennsylvania.

If the economy reopens entirely and people see that as a “return to normal” and relax their own social distancing practices as well, the additional deaths could top 800,000 — but the economy would add 4 million jobs over the next two months, the model predicts.

The data comes as governors across the country are pondering the pros and cons, and states like New York face huge decisions.

Keep the shutdown in place and the state’s gross domestic product will plummet 11.2% on a year-to-year basis, and it will shed hundreds of thousands of workers, the model states. Open up, and those job losses will be limited, and GDP will be 1.5% better — though still severely negative, at 9.7% lower on a year-to-year basis.

If, in addition to reopening, New Yorkers ditched social distancing, the state would actually gain hundreds of thousands of jobs through June. But an additional 130,000 people would die from COVID-19 in that full reopening and relaxed distancing scenario, the model says.

By contrast in Montana the model says the worst-case scenario would be 10 more deaths if the state fully reopens and social distancing disappears. It would, though, be adding thousands more jobs come June, compared to losing thousands if the state follows a stay-at-home stance.

Wyoming faces a similar equation of a smaller increase in deaths, versus a significantly better jobs picture.

PWBM tested six different possibilities: The baseline of current shutdowns, a partial reopening and a full reopening, and each of those combined with either current social distancing guidelines or relaxed guidelines.

In each scenario the economy will be far worse than last year — though in one, the full reopening and relaxed social distancing, the job market comes roaring back. If the country is fully reopened but social distancing is maintained, job losses will still occur, but be limited to about a half-million between now and the end of June.

But maintaining any shutdowns means severe job pain, and the bigger the shutdown the worse it is.

The differences are particularly striking in number of cases.

If New York stays shut down, it should hit the end of June with about 367,000 detected cases of COVID-19. If it were to fully reopen, that would soar to 3.2 million detected cases, the model says. But in Montana, the case load would more than double from 532 to 1,092, the model predicts.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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