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The COVID-19 Pandemic and the $16 Trillion Virus

Educational Objective
To identify the key insights or developments described in this article
1 Credit CME

The SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) pandemic is the greatest threat to prosperity and well-being the US has encountered since the Great Depression. This Viewpoint aggregates mortality, morbidity, mental health conditions, and direct economic losses to estimate the total cost of the pandemic in the US on the optimistic assumption that it will be substantially contained by the fall of 2021. These costs far exceed those associated with conventional recessions and the Iraq War, and are similar to those associated with global climate change. However, increased investment in testing and contact tracing could have economic benefits that are at least 30 times greater than the estimated costs of the investment in these approaches.

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Article Information

Corresponding Author: David M. Cutler, PhD, Department of Economics, Harvard University, 1805 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02138 (dcutler@fas.harvard.edu).

Published Online: October 12, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.19759

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Dr Cutler reports receiving fees from serving as an expert witness for opioid and vaping litigation, personal fees for article preparation from the Brookings Institution, and research support from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America outside the submitted work. He is also a commissioner of the Health Policy Commission in Massachusetts. Dr Summers reports receiving personal fees from various financial institutions outside the submitted work and personal fees for article preparation from the Brookings Institution.

Funding/Support: This work was funded by the National Institute on Aging under award P01AG005842.

Role of the Funder/Sponsor: The National Institute on Aging had no role in the preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; and decision to submit the manuscript for publication.

Additional Information: More information on the calculations is available at http://scholar.harvard.edu/cutler.

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