Tinglong Dai, Shubhranshu Singh, 23 December 2020

The US continues to struggle with insufficient COVID-19 testing capacity. At the same time, US laboratories use ultrasensitive diagnostic criteria in their tests, leading to a large proportion of positive diagnoses associated with negligible viral loads. This column seeks to construct a theory that explains both undertesting and overdiagnosis. The theory predicts both phenomena may arise in the absence of mandatory viral load reporting. Despite the obvious clinical advantages of viral load reporting, mandating such reporting may not be optimal when considering laboratories’ capacity building decisions and potential benefits of widespread quarantining. 

Reda Cherif, Fuad Hasanov, 15 August 2020

Lockdown measures, contact tracing, and widespread testing have dominated the policy responses of many countries to the Covid-19 crisis. This column argues that a universal testing and isolation policy is the most viable way to vanquish the pandemic. Its implementation requires an epidemiological, rather than clinical, approach to testing, and requires the ramping up of testing kit production in order to achieve a scale and speed that the market alone would fail to provide. The estimated cost of universal testing is dwarfed by its return, mitigating the economic fallout of the pandemic.

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.

Facundo Piguillem, Liyan Shi, 26 June 2020

Given the wide range of strategies pursued by governments coping with COVID-19, the question of ‘who got it right’ is unavoidable. This column argues that the combination of issues at stake – the chance to eliminate the virus, the statistical value of life, and the behavioural reactions to social distancing – makes it possible to rationalise quite different government reactions. Nevertheless, one tool could have substantially reduced the economic cost of quarantines and was vastly underutilised by most countries: testing.

Milena Almagro, Angelo Orane-Hutchinson, 19 June 2020

Different countries and cities have different rates of Covid exposure, but what can explain the difference in incidence between neighbourhoods? New York residents Milena Almagro and Angelo Orane-Hutchinson tell Tim Phillips what made the difference in their city.
Read their research in Covid Economics 13.

Luiz Brotherhood, Philipp Kircher, Cezar Santos, Michèle Tertilt, 12 June 2020

Governments worldwide locked down their economies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This column considers two lockdown policies – a stay-at-home order and a test-and-quarantine approach – and their projected effects on deaths and GDP. Adjustments in individual behaviour, especially by the elderly, can save many lives, while lockdown policies targeted at the young prolongs the time need to reach herd immunity and could lead to more deaths in the long run. Testing and quarantining is an effective policy but requires about 10 million tests each week for the US alone.

David Miles, 09 June 2020

How many people have already been infected with Covid-19? Without randomised mass testing, current estimates vary enormously. Meanwhile, post-lockdown policy choices based on this data are literally a matter of life and death. David Miles of Imperial College tells Tim Phillips about how he estimated the asymptomatic rate of infection, and the surprising result he found.

Stephanie Schmitt-Grohe, 16 May 2020

Stephanie Schmitt-Grohé and coauthors found that access to tests for coronavirus in New York City was surprisingly egalitarian: testing distribution was a good match for income distribution across the city.

Christelle Baunez, Mickael Degoulet, Stéphane Luchini, Patrick Pintus, Miriam Teschl, 10 May 2020

Tests are crucial to detect people who have been infected by COVID-19 and to observe in real time whether the dynamics of the pandemic are accelerating or decelerating. However, tests are a scarce resource in many countries. This column proposes a data-driven and operational criterion to allocate tests efficiently across regions, with a view to maximising the fraction of tested people who are positive. When applied to Italian regions, the criterion reveals that the shares of tests that should go to each region differ significantly from the present distribution.

Matthew Cleevely, Daniel Susskind, David Vines, Louis Vines, Samuel Wills, 06 May 2020

Relaxing the lockdowns imposed to control the Covid-19 pandemic requires a workable testing strategy for the population. This column argues that ‘stratified periodic testing’ can help economies return to work while keeping Covid-19 cases falling. This strategy would involve testing individuals within specified at-risk groups for infection at regular intervals, upwards of once every five days. This would be a better use of scarce testing resources than daily ‘universal random testing’ of the entire population.

Romesh Vaitilingam, 10 April 2020

The lockdowns in place around the world to limit the contagion of Covid-19 have been implemented without reliable information on the spread of the disease or the prevalence of the novel coronavirus in the population. The IGM Forum at Chicago Booth invited its panel of leading US economists to express their views on the role of testing for infections and antibodies to inform decisions about easing measures on social distancing and allowing the return of public activities. This column reveals a strong consensus among the experts on the value of random testing to establish baseline levels of the virus, and near unanimity on the need for a massive increase in testing capacity as part of a clear strategy for an economic restart.

Daniel Gros, 28 March 2020

The increasingly draconian measures that European governments have put in place to control the spread of COVID-19 have been taken without reliable information on the true spread of the disease. This column argues that it would be possible to quickly organise an EU-wide survey test of a representative sample of the entire population using an existing panel of European households. This would yield key data on the spread of the disease, for example by showing whether suppression is still possible. Having reliable data which are comparable across countries would also be indispensable for any exit strategy from the internal border controls which have proliferated as the crisis spread.

Richard Baldwin, 26 March 2020

The economic and medical fight against COVID-19 are linked, as Mathias Dewatripont and a team of virologist pointed out on VoxEU recently. The linchpin is testing. This column argues that testing is critical to (1) reducing the economic pain of the current COVID-19 wave, and (2) reducing the pain of the second wave that some epidemiologists are expecting. The US and Europe should be investing massively in testing capacity.

Victor Lavy, Avraham Ebenstein, Sefi Roth, 20 November 2014

Admission to higher education often depends on the results of high-stakes tests, but assessing the consequences of having a ‘bad day’ on such tests is challenging. This column provides evidence from a dataset on Israeli high-school students. Random variations in pollution have measurable effects on exam performance, and these in turn have significant effects on students’ future educational and labour-market outcomes. The authors argue that placing too much weight on high-stakes exams may not be consistent with meritocratic principles.


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