What would it cost to end the pandemic? - The New York Times

2021-12-23 06:57:08 By : Ms. Angela Li

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After President Biden laid out his administration’s new plan Tuesday to take on the Omicron variant, The New York Times’s DealBook team spoke with medical and policy professionals about what he got right — and where he could have gone farther.

And then, inspired by a post by Dr. Eric Topol of the Scripps Research Institute and drawing on insights from Dr. Joseph Allen of Harvard University and Dr. Ashish Jha of Brown University, DealBook calculated the cost of what health experts think might be necessary to help end the pandemic.

Rapid tests. While experts welcomed Mr. Biden’s plan to distribute 500 million free tests, many think far more are needed. The cost of producing the tests is less than $1, but scarcity has driven up their retail price. (Mr. Biden said he would invoke the Defense Production Act to augment the manufacturing of tests to help address supply issues.)

Let’s assume the White House can meet demand, and that the U.S. can buy the tests at $1 each. Paying for all 330 million Americans to have one rapid test a day for the next six months would cost about $60 billion, though that includes tests for infants and the like who don’t necessarily need them.

Antiviral treatments. The Times’s case tracker estimates that the U.S. is currently averaging about 155,000 cases a day, or roughly a million a week. If that pace stays constant, that would bring the nation to roughly 26 million cases over the next six months.

But with experts warning of a rise in the rate of infection, let’s double that to 50 million cases. Assuming every infected person is given a $530 course of antiviral medicine, the cost of treatment is about $27 billion.

Masks. While Americans have gotten used to wearing cloth or surgical masks, N95 and KN95 ones are more effective at protecting both wearers and those around them.

If the U.S. gave every American two KN95 masks a week over the next six months, and the government can buy them for $1 each, that comes out to $17 billion. (If you assume only 60 percent of Americans need them, by excluding infants and the like, that amounts to $10 billion.)

The total comes to a little over $100 billion. But there are plenty of caveats: This doesn’t include the costs of other measures that Mr. Biden has announced, like resources for more vaccination sites, nor does it account for manufacturing mishaps or the reality that some Americans won’t, for whatever reason, follow medical advice.

But the U.S. has already spent trillions on pandemic aid, which may still not be enough. The medical system is strained by the expense of treating the sick: Delta Air Lines has reported that the average cost of hospital treatment for an employee with Covid is $50,000. And then there is the pandemic’s effect on mental health. Even if these measures may not succeed, would failure outweigh the cost of not trying?

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