Stefan Pichler, Katherine Wen, Nicolas Robert Ziebarth, 05 March 2021

By now, it should be clear that presenteeism (going into work when sick) contributes significantly to the transmission of diseases. This column summarises current evidence on sick-pay mandates in the US and the spread of flu-like illnesses and COVID-19. Over the last ten years, states that introduced sick-pay mandates saw a decrease in seasonal flu activity by up to 30% in the first years compared to states that didn’t introduce such mandates. Introducing sick-pay mandates did not result in significant employment or wages decreases. Mandating COVID-19-related emergency sick leave also significantly reduced COVID-19 infection rates in states previously without sick-pay mandates, especially affecting low-income and service-sector employees.

Casey Mulligan, 28 January 2021

The spread of COVID-19 in the US has prompted extraordinary steps by individuals and institutions to limit infections. Some worry that ‘the cure is worse than the disease’ and these measures may lead to an increase in deaths of despair. Using data from the US, this column estimates how many non-COVID-19 excess deaths have occurred during the pandemic. Mortality in 2020 significantly exceeds the total of official COVID-19 deaths and a normal number of deaths from other causes. Certain characteristics suggest the excess are deaths of despair. Social isolation may be part of the mechanism that turns a pandemic into a wave of deaths of despair; further studies are needed to show if that is the case and how. 

Difang Huang, 06 January 2020

In his Covid Economics paper [Issue 59, Paper 4] , Difang Huang (Monash University) uses data from the United States to show that social distancing lowered the average daily infection cases by 12%, and provides evidence that the effects are heterogeneous in an individual's income, race, education, and political belief. Here he discusses these findings with CEPR's Tim Phillips. You can find his paper here: https://cepr.org/content/covid-economics-vetted-and-real-time-papers-

Matthew Spiegel, Heather E. Tookes, 07 December 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues worldwide, policymakers are still grappling with the question of which non-pharmaceutical policy interventions are effective. In the US, state and county policies varied widely, as did the growth in fatalities due to COVID-19. This column examines US business policies to help shed light on which policies save more lives. Stay-at-home orders, mandatory mask requirements, beach and park closures, restaurant closures, and high-risk (Level 2) business closures most consistently predict lower fatality growth four to six weeks ahead. Closures of low- and medium-risk businesses do not appear effective and, despite their costs, may even be counterproductive.

Miltos Makris, Flavio Toxvaerd, 24 November 2020

The prospect of an effective vaccine to Covid-19 in the near term makes it important to understand private and public incentives to suppress infection. This column examines how the prospect of a vaccine alters individuals’ incentives to self-protect between now and the arrival of the vaccine, and how a benevolent social planner would prefer individuals to self-protect. It finds that individuals tend to ramp up self-protection in anticipation of the vaccine, while the social planner manages the transition by introducing stricter suppression at early stages.

Francesca Caselli, Francesco Grigoli, Weicheng Lian, Damiano Sandri, 16 November 2020

Non-pharmaceutical interventions remain key to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. This column examines the impact of lockdowns on mobility in a large number of countries during the first seven months of the pandemic. Both lockdowns and voluntary social distancing helped contain the first wave of COVID-19. In particular, stringent and rapidly adopted lockdowns significantly slowed the spread of the virus. Despite their short-term economic costs, early and tight lockdowns may pave the way to a faster recovery.

Daniel Gros, 12 November 2020

In the autumn of 2020, many European governments are imposing ‘lockdowns light’, which usually contain limitations on the operations of restaurants, bars, and some shops considered non-essential.  This column argues that pandemic control cannot be limited to lockdowns. Activities like providing restaurant meals or retailing increase the risk of infection and thus involve a large difference between private and social cost.  The efficient solution to this problem would be incentives for shop and restaurant closures, rather than mandated lockdowns.

Vincenzo Galasso, Vincent Pons, Paola Profeta, 07 November 2020

The efficacy of government lockdown measures to contain COVID-19 hinges on people’s willingness to comply. It is critical to identify and convince those who are the least compliant. This column surveyed over 21,000 respondents in eight OECD countries, in March and April 2020, on beliefs about COVID-19 and containment measures and their level of compliance with the measures. Men and women differ strikingly in both beliefs and behaviours, with women are more likely to take the pandemic seriously and more compliant than men. The findings suggest that public health communication should target men and women differently.

Roberto Galbiati, Emeric Henry, Nicolas Jacquemet, Max Lobeck, 24 October 2020

In order to promote social distancing to contain the spread of Covid-19, governments introduced strict regulations. This column uses interviews from before the 23 March announcement of a nationwide UK lockdown and after the announcement to show that the introduction of the new laws affected the perception of social norms regarding the various containment measures – that is, what people thought the prevalent norms were. This appears to have been the result of fewer misperceptions about the social norms after the introduction of the laws, rather than actual changes in the social norms. 

Maxim Ananyev, Michael Poyker, Yuan Tian, 20 October 2020

The death toll in the US from Covid-19 is much higher than that of many other developed nations. This column investigates how the conservative media has affected containment efforts in the country during the pandemic. Using smartphone data to measure mobility and social distancing combined with data on the historical line-up of cable channels as the source of variation in viewing habits, it shows a corelation between exposure to Fox News, smaller reductions in distance travelled, and less inclination to heed public health guidelines. Political polarisation and the politicisation of science thus appear to have harmed containment efforts in the US.

Jose Maria Barrero, Nicholas Bloom, Steven Davis, 23 September 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a sudden, massive shift around the world to working from home. While there is great concern how this will affect inequality and how the economy will adjust, the shift has also saved billions of hours of commuting time in the US alone. Drawing on original surveys, this column estimates that the shift to working from home lowers commuting time among Americans by more than 60 million hours per workday. Americans devote about a third of the time savings to their primary jobs and about 60% to other work activities, including household chores and childcare. The allocation of time savings differs substantially by education group and between persons with and without children at home.

Yoseph Getachew, 22 September 2020

During the COVID-19 pandemic, policymakers have often relied on epidemiology models to track the spread of the outbreak. However, such models lack the necessary tools to account for individual behaviour potentially influencing the dynamics of the pandemic. This column integrates individual economic decision-making and voluntary social distancing into these models. It argues that voluntary social distancing is important for both flattening the infection curve and minimising economic damage. Although government-enforced social distancing is much more effective in flattening the curve, it comes at a higher cost to the economy.

Nicholas W. Papageorge, Matthew Zahn, Michèle Belot, Eline van den Broek-Altenburg, Syngjoo Choi, Julian C. Jamison, Egon Tripodi, 05 September 2020

Individual behaviours affect the spread of infectious disease. This column examines factors that predict individual behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic in the US using novel survey data. People with lower income and less flexible work arrangements are less likely to engage in behaviours that limit the spread of disease. The burden of measures to stem the pandemic is unevenly distributed across socio-demographic groups in ways that affect behaviour and potentially the spread of illness. Policies that assume otherwise are unlikely to be effective or sustainable.

Luc Laeven, 31 August 2020

Social distancing policies are necessary from a public health perspective but can have negative effects on economic activity. Using a newly constructed dataset of sectoral dependence on the use and sale of intermediate goods, this column investigates whether social distancing policies can have negative spillover effects on sectors that are not directly targeted due to input-output linkages. It finds that firms that depend on the sale of intermediate goods to sectors affected by social distancing measures are more affected by the crisis.

Michael Gapen, Jonathan Millar, Blerina Uruçi, Pooja Sriram, 14 August 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, US policymakers must consider containment measures while weighing adverse health outcomes against forgone economic activity. This column uses panel data to evaluate alternative strategies to keep COVID-19 in check. Viable options to keep new case counts on a downward trajectory without economically costly shutdowns include more testing (at least 1.8 million per day for the US, used in isolation) and either mask requirements or indoor-dining restrictions. The US is nowhere near the point where herd immunity alone can control infections.

Eudora Ribeiro, 12 August 2020

Fear and imposed isolation due to COVID-19 have raised alarms about the impact on mental health on a global scale. The severe anticipated global recession and substantial increases in unemployment and indebtedness are both risk factors for suicide. This column reviews past similar scenarios of pandemics and recessions and its links to suicide. The recipe for preventing suicide amidst the COVID-19 pandemic includes investment in mental healthcare, such as providing suicide prevention services, and active employment policies.

Caitlin Brown, Martin Ravallion, 10 August 2020

Income is linked to COVID-19 risk factors: poorer people are less likely to be able to socially distance or telework. However, higher-income areas tend to have more in-person interactions. This column disentangles the socioeconomic influences on COVID-19 behaviour and outcomes across the 3,000 counties of the US. Counties with higher overall income inequality tend to have higher infection rates. A higher population share of Black Americans and Hispanics is associated with higher infection rates. These effects do not fade over time from the first infection.

Alexander Ahammer, Martin Halla, Mario Lackner, 06 August 2020

Social distancing is important to slow the community spread of COVID-19. This column studies the banning of mass gatherings, a comparably low-cost intervention. Exploiting exogenous variation in top-flight basketball and ice hockey games in the US, which arise due to the leagues' predetermined schedules, and the suspension of the 2019-20 seasons, it estimates the impact of indoor mass gatherings on COVID-19 mortality in affected US counties. The findings suggest that one additional mass gathering increased the cumulative number of COVID-19 deaths in affected counties by 9%.

Olivier Marie, Judit Vall Castello, 28 July 2020

Many governments increased temporary sick-leave benefits in the wake of COVID-19, but the benefits are due to expire after a certain time. This column looks back at a 2012 policy change in Spain which radically altered the generosity of paid sick leave available to public-sector employees. Following the change, the number of sick leaves taken by public-sector workers dropped 29% but the likelihood of relapses increased, with most of it driven by infectious disease relapses. Policymakers need to manage changes in sick-leave generosity, especially in the face of persistent or recurring infectious diseases such as COVID-19.

Michèle Belot, Syngjoo Choi, Egon Tripodi, Eline van den Broek-Altenburg, Julian C. Jamison, Nicholas W. Papageorge, 24 July 2020

Almost all countries in the world have implemented drastic measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. This column documents the effects of the epidemic and containment measures using representative individual data on age and income from three Western and three Asian countries. Younger groups in all countries have been affected more, both economically and non-economically. Differences across income groups are less clear and less consistent across countries. The young are less compliant and supportive of the containment measures, no matter how hard they have been affected by them.

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