The coronavirus and our necessary public health responses are having significant economic impacts. Not all are bad. $1.77-per-gallon gasoline at Cenex is a nice break on household expenses for those who still need to get around by car. But drivers are mostly staying home, reducing the costs of automotive accidents, injuries, and deaths. According to University of California–Davis researchers, the savings from reducing car wrecks may total $40 million a day:
Traffic accidents and crash-related injuries and deaths were reduced by half during the first three weeks of California’s shelter-in-place order, which began March 20. The reductions save the state an estimated $40 million per day — about $1 billion over the time period — according to an updated special report released this week from the Road Ecology Center at the University of California, Davis.
…In parallel with the more than 50 percent reduction in traffic collisions and related injuries and deaths came a 55 percent reduction in traffic on some highways. There was also a 40-50 percent decrease in trauma-injuries for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists reported among Sacramento-area hospitals.
Altogether, the reduction amounts to about 15,000 fewer collisions per month and 6,000 fewer injuries or fatal accidents per month that can be directly attributed to the shelter-in-place order [Kat Kerlin, “California COVID-19 Traffic Report Finds Silver Lining,” UC Davis, 2020.04.16].
Coronavirus shutdowns have also reduced air pollution in cities around the planet. Pre-pandemic research shows that health impacts—less asthma, fewer heart attacks, healthier babies—from cleaner air happen within weeks, saving billions of dollars. Plus, air pollution appears to make coronavirus cases worse, so shutting down the polluting economy and making cleaner air saves lives right along with social distancing.
If policymakers are going to cite economic impacts as reasons to modify our pandemic-mitigation measures, they need to weigh the positive economic impacts of shutting down the economy along with the negative.