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How Much Are We Spending To Prevent One COVID-19 Death — Millions, Billions, Trillions? Nobody Knows

I&I Editorial

I’d say the cost of a human life, a human life is priceless. Period.”

That was Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, arguing for stretching the economically catastrophic lockdowns into the foreseeable future. Never mind that more than 105,000 abortions were performed in New York in 2017 alone, at an average cost of about $600. Clearly, human life is not priceless. 

In a world where resources are limited and everything involves a tradeoff, we are constantly making decisions that put a value on human lives. Federal regulators have even set an amount for what’s called the “value of a statistical life.” During the Obama administration, the EPA put that value at close to $10 million. Regulations that cost more than that to save one “statistical life” are seen as costing more than they’re worth. 

So, the relevant question is, how much are we spending in an attempt to save someone from a COVID-19 induced death, and is it worth it?

As it stands, nobody has a clue.

The only thing we know for sure is that the cost is mind-boggling. One report puts the price tag for the shutdown, now stretching into its third month, at $5.2 trillion. 

Researchers at the University of Wyoming concluded that the shutdown would cost more than $7 trillion, but it was worth it because the value of the lives saved would be more than $12 trillion. 

“Based on this comparison, we find that social distancing policies likely do not constitute an overreaction to COVID-19,” the authors wrote. Their findings attracted widespread media attention.

But that study assumed the lockdowns will save more than a million lives, a number they appear to have derived from the Imperial College coronavirus model that forecast more than 2 million deaths in the U.S. without lockdowns, and more than a million with them.

We’ve learned since that Imperial College model is junk, and that the virus is far less deadly than previously assumed. The current estimate is that slightly more than 130,000 people will die in the U.S. from COVID-19 by August. Even that could be an exaggeration.

This still leaves open the question of how many lives were saved by the lockdown. At $7 trillion in economic costs, the lockdowns would have to save 700,000 lives before they even met the government’s $10 million-per-life-saved threshold.

That seems increasingly unlikely. In fact, the more we learn about the disease, the more it appears that the lockdowns didn’t save very many lives, if they saved any at all.

Swedish infectious disease expert Johan Giesecke, writing in the journal Lancet, says “It has become clear that a hard lockdown does not protect old and frail people living in care homes — a population the lockdown was designed to protect. Neither does it decrease mortality from COVID-19, which is evident when comparing the United Kingdom’s experience with that of other European countries.”

He goes on to say that “A lockdown might delay severe cases for a while, but once restrictions are eased, cases will reappear … I expect that when we count the number of deaths from COVID-19 in each country one year from now, the figures will be similar, regardless of measures taken.”

Lyman Stone, an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, looked at the available evidence and concluded simply that “lockdowns don’t work.”

He notes that COVID-19 deaths crested in Spain, France, and the Lombardy region of Italy before the lockdowns could have had any impact on the spread of the disease.

In the U.S., he found the death rate climbing after the lockdowns went into effect. “For every two weeks a stay-at-home order is in place, the death rate rises by one person per 100,000. For bans of gatherings of 50 people, it’s every 11 days.”

Stone goes on to say that: 

“The only U.S.-based academic study empirically linking lockdowns to lower deaths is a recent economics paper identifying California’s lockdown as the reason for its lower death rate. The problem with this paper is that the authors find that the lockdown began to reduce California’s deaths just five days after being implemented. The effect is too early to derive from the supposed cause.”

The massively intrusive and costly government lockdowns are looking more and more like the most expensive and least effective regulations ever imposed in this nation’s history. 

Will anyone be held responsible for the calamity, or will we just go on pretending it was worth it?

— Written by the I&I Editorial Board.

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The Issues and Insights Editorial Board has decades of experience in journalism, commentary and public policy.


  • I don’t know how much we’re paying to prevent one COVID-19 death, but I know I’ve lost upwards of $5,000 for sheltering tenants (a single mother and two kids) in my basement apartment who haven’t paying rent since late March because she lost her job, but whom I can’t evict because of Gov. Newsom’s moratorium on eviction.

    I’m a poor old widow on a fixed income and much as I want to help my tenants, I rely on their rent payment to pay my own bills – the mortgage, maintenance, insurance, property tax, and utilities, including theirs.

    Unlike the salon operator in Texas who merely called back her employees and reopened her shop in a brave act of civil disobedience, I need a landlord attorney, a court order, and a sheriff to get liberated from being held hostage by fast-accumulating uncollected rents and my own unpaid bills. But not a lawyer nor a sheriff in my area will dare disobey the Governor’s edict to help me. I doubt very much if my tenant can pay back at the end of this pandemic. I need them gone so I can look for other tenants who will pay.

    My loss is a payment to save a life or two from COVID-19 that I can’t afford, Oh, Lord, please deliver us from this evil pandemic, and restore our economy. Deliver us, O, Jesus.

  • the recovery rate for covid-19m is 99,%5…..think about that….
    if a treatment for cancer reached a recovery rate of 99.%5 they would be celebrating a cure for cancer…but..
    a recovery rate of 99.5% for covid-19 is a reason for continued lock down and isolation.
    the pandemic is not out of control….the panic is

    • It’s the politics of it that’s out of control! All those democrats out there who believe every word CNN reports are still in a panic and I have to wonder at their naivety! Little soldiers swallowing every CNN word as if it were written in the Holy Bible.

  • I’n waiting for the “if it only save’s one life” argument on illegal immigration that kills thousands of Americans every year..

  • The question to ask is why are they dying.
    On March 25th, MIT published an article based on Wuhan coronavirus (Covid 19/SARS2) autopsies which stated that capillaries in the lungs, heart, and other organs were coagulating leading to ARDS, damage and failure in all areas of the body where ACE2 is expressed. Ventilators were pushing against clogged lungs. Coagulation was reported at IV and catheter sites.
    They suggested Tissue Plasminogen Activator (tPA) normally used for treating embolisms in stroke and heart attack victims. Previous ARDS studies using tPA found it effective in restoring fibrinolysis balance and oxygenation levels. Nebulized application worked best and that makes sense if IV sights are coagulated. No sense fighting upstream.
    Mt. Sinai did a study on 3 people using tPA, but found Heparin was needed to maintain thin enough blood and oxygenation.
    On March 25th, 675 had died as a result of ARDS related complications caused by the Wuhan coronavirus (Covid 19/SARS2) pandemic. Almost two months later the number of deaths has reached 80,000.
    How many deaths and how much time, money, and effort have been lost because “best in class” treatments were not applied. The politicians warred over the effectiness of Hydroxychloroquine which is listed as an ACE2 inhibitor and mounting anecdotal evidence demonstrated some effectiveness in stopping continued Wuhan coronavirus infection if taken early enough. It costs about $20 per treatment.
    Recent reports have shown lower infection rates for those that maintain higher levels of Vitamin D3 &C, Omega 3, and even nicotine levels. I am curious if the old fashioned, time honored Doctor’s advice of taking two aspirin (greater than 320 mgs) and plenty of fluids might prevent ARDS. Previous ARDS studies using 320 mgs or lower showed no benefit.
    We don’t need a lockdown if we can effectively treat the most serious side effects of the Wuhan coronavirus (Covid 19/SARS2) pandemic. A vaccine could be years away. We know why people are dying from ARDS related complications associated with the Wuhan coronavirus. The medical gurus need to employ “best in class” treatments and change the protocols on using tPA or other blood thinning agents to save lives.

    • I forgot to add blood plasma from previously infected patients who have built up sufficient antibodies as a effective treatment.

  • Probably about the same amount that the Issues & Insights editorial board pays their illegal immigrant housekeepers, nannies, cooks, and gardeners.

  • Fauci and the CDC “science” projections were massively and tragically wrong, so governors focused on all the wrong things, 17 of them losing 50% or more of their fatalities in nursing homes, because the elderly weren’t protected while virus-safe children were. Even the CDC estimates that modeled mass social distancing were wrong. All while we continue on the path to save 10 pensioners from Covid at the expense of 200 suicides of small-business owners who lost everything, and millions more children with food insecurity.

  • Well, the government has already determined that a fully-trained fighter pilot (or any GI Joe) is worth $250k dead, so that’s your starting point.

    This whole reaction stinks of rank opportunism by the democrats – not liberals, as I consider myself such – to jam all of the programs rejected by the public at large through and hope someone can pay for them later. I mean lets be honest – most of them will be dead in a few years anyway, so what do they care of the legacy they leave my children and grandchildren.

    And, as the economy tanks folks need to remember that when it comes to survival people will do damn near anything to make it through. Get ready for a huge spike in robbery, murder, theft, assault, etc..

  • If one really wants a number, the simplest way is to divide the government outlay for this circus act and divide it into the current number of deaths. As stated in the article, take $5,200,000,000,000 (I like using the zeroes; they make liberals’ eyes cross) spread over today’s alleged death tote board at 87,417 — “can we get a total, Ed?”

    Each life = $59,484,997.20

  • The $10M figure is hugely high for the population of people who are at risk. An 80 year old person who is likely to die within the next few years anyway is rightly not valued as highly (by any sensible method) as someone young and healthy.

    • Be fair. The average age of death in the northeast states has been 79, not 80. Interestingly, the US life expectancy in 2019 was 78.87 years. 33 million jobs lost.

  • “I’d say the cost of a human life, a human life is priceless. Period.” Except if you’re living in one of NY’s nursing homes. His actions directly led to over 5,000 deaths. He has been a disaster, yet the press and his brother’s network, build him up as some hero during this flu outbreak. I am ashamed to have him and his ilk as governors in America. Blue state tin-horn dictators prove they can not be trusted with this kind of power.

  • When all its effects are considered, the lockdown does not actually save lives. Many lives will have been lost to the virus with or without the lockdown. The benefit is said to be ‘flattening the curve’ so healthcare facilties are not overwhelmed. If so, some lives may be saved in that way. But many lives will be lost due to the economic impact of the shutdown, a main cause being increased suicides. Psychologist Glenn Sullivan estimates that, if the increase in suicides is comparable to that after the great depression, 6000 more lives may be lost in that way relative to the normal number. It’s doubtful that the lockdown has saved that many lives by flattening the curve, so the lockdown appears to be producing more deaths and more poverty.

  • All of the policies have not saved a single life – yet.

    NYC’s medical facilities were being stretched at the beginning, but with all of the aid they got with field hospitals, hospital ships, ventilator shipments, etc. (which ended up barely being used) even if there were no lockdown, likely no one would have been denied necessary treatment.

    People, especially governors it seems, don’t understand what “flattening the curve” is. These are almost always people who just say, “math is hard.” The area under the curve (the number of deaths) is the same, just spread out over time. I saw the governor of Illinois ranting about saving “tens of thousands of lives.” Which completely false.

    If an effective vaccine is found in the next year or so, or if a highly effective treatment is found in that time period, the tail end of the curve can be cut off. That could save the lives of those who would otherwise have gotten the SARS-2 coronavirus and died prior to that point and didn’t because of slower transmission of the disease. Even then, there is no telling if there was actually any slowing of the transmission (I expect reduced travel has slowed it). If it takes 2 years for a vaccine or treatment, we probably saved zero lives.

  • All lives are precious. One step we can take to save tens of thousands of lives is to lower the national speed limit to 5 MPH. Also, banning motorcycles, airplanes and surfing. There are many other thing that we could ban or restrict, but there is not room to enumerate them here. One last thing that would save thousands of lives is to do something about gang warfare in Urbana areas, but that would be racist, but I am sure we could find many non-racist things to save lives.

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