A string of research papers released this week at a Brookings Institution conference say that the U.S. could have saved billions of dollars and nearly 400,000 lives if it had responded more effectively to COVID-19 with a coherent strategy in the first few months of the pandemic, Reuters reports. UCLA economics professor Andrew Atkeson concluded that if the U.S. had mandated mask-wearing and social distancing and established testing protocols by the end of last May, the country’s COVID-19 deaths could have remained under 300,000. So far, more than 540,000 Americans have died on account of the virus, and Atkeson estimated that the total death toll will ultimately be close to 670,000. He added that without a vaccine that number would be close to 1.27 million.
UC Berkeley economics professor Christine Romer added that the government’s economic response could have been better. The federal government has spent more than $5 trillion on relief packages and other COVID-related initiatives, and while she said that this likely will not cause an economic catastrophe, Romer is concerned that the government will not correctly prioritize their spending. She criticized initiatives like the Payment Protection Program saying that it was “problematic on many levels,” and that some aspects of stimulus payments were “largely ineffective and wasteful.”