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COVID testing in Rome. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP via Getty Images

Government spending on testing and contact tracing pays for itself more than 30 times over, according to a new paper published by the American Medical Association.

What they found: Harvard economists David Cutler and Lawrence Summers (yes, that Larry Summers) calculated the total cost of the coronavirus pandemic at more than $16 trillion in the United States alone. Of that, about $7 trillion is attributable to loss of life and long-term impairment from the disease.

  • Enhanced testing and tracing would cost about $6 million per 100,000 inhabitants, they calculate. Out of that population, 14 lives would be saved, on which they place a value of $96 million, and 33 critical and severe cases would be avoided, representing savings of $80 million.
  • That adds up to $176 million in benefits from $6 million in costs — before taking into account any second-order effects from even fewer cases down the road.

The bottom line: "Currently, the U.S. prioritizes spending on acute treatment," write Cutler and Summers, "with far less spending on public health services and infrastructure."

  • Going forward, they write, "a minimum of 5% of any COVID economic relief intervention should be devoted to such health measures."

Go deeper

Jan 19, 2021 - Health

U.S. surpasses 400,000 coronavirus deaths on Trump's final full day in office

Expand chart
Data: CSSE Johns Hopkins University; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Over 400,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the U.S. as of Tuesday, per Johns Hopkins data.

Why it matters: It only took a little over a month for the U.S. to reach this mass casualty after 300,000 COVID deaths were reported last month. That's over 100,000 fatalities in 36 days.

Jan 20, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Joe Biden's COVID-19 bubble

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The incoming administration is planning extraordinary steps to protect its most prized commodity, Joe Biden, including requiring daily employee COVID tests and N95 masks at all times, according to new guidance sent to some incoming employees Tuesday.

Why it matters: The president-elect is 78 years old and therefore a high risk for the virus and its worst effects, despite having received the vaccine. While President Trump's team was nonchalant about COVID protocols — leading to several super-spreader episodes — the new rules will apply to all White House aides in "high proximity to principals."

Dave Lawler, author of World
Jan 19, 2021 - World

Biden will bring U.S. into COVAX vaccine initiative, Blinken says

Data: Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance; Map: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Secretary of State designate Tony Blinken announced in a confirmation hearing on Tuesday that President-elect Biden would bring the U.S. into the COVAX initiative — the global effort from the World Health Organization and other groups to ensure that every country has access to COVID-19 vaccines.

Why it matters: Virtually the entire world has signed onto COVAX, apart from the U.S. and Russia. It's expected to be the only source of vaccines for some of the world's poorest countries, and it needs additional funding to fulfill its goal of vaccinating at least 20% of the population in every country by the end of 2021.