About three weeks ago, I posted about the degree to which total U.S. CCP Virus-related deaths were occurring in nursing homes and other special facilities for seniors. And I noted that the answer – “really big” – provided significant evidence for the idea that substantial reopenings of the U.S. economy were much more feasible than widely believed.
The reason: If the virus’ main dangers were so highly concentrated in a single, highly vulnerable, and already confined population, then by definition, such dangers to the rest of the public were considerably less serious than widely believed. Therefore, relatively low-risk populations could be permitted to reengage in normal economic activity sooner rather than later.
Three weeks later, the case for faster, wider reopenings is even stronger – along with the arguments for focusing virus containment measures on seniors, and especially those inside or outside such facilities.
For example, that previous post cited data indicating that about twenty percent of all U.S. virus deaths were taking place in elder care facilities. More recently, a comprehensive New York Times survey pegged the share at 35 percent.
Moreover, data are coming in making clear that this pattern is hardly confined to the United States. In Canada, the share has been reported at 81 percent. Across Europe, national shares are thought to be between 42 percent and 57 percent. In the United Kingdom, it’s estimated at 25 percent.
Possibly the most intriguing findings concern Sweden. That’s because its lockdown was the lightest imposed among the wealthier national economies. The overall Swedish virus death rates, however, have been right in the middle of the pack for Europe. (See here for the latest numbers.) Yet the Swedish government has also reported that nearly half those deaths have taken place in elder care facilities.
In other words, if Sweden had its nursing home act together, its virus fatalities would have been about 185 per million people – which would have put it well behind the United States, Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. Sweden’s economy, unfortunately, seems unlikely to escape taking a major virus-related economic hit anyway. But the toll seems largely due to its relatively small size and as a result its relatively heavy reliance on foreign trade – not to its failure to shut down more broadly.
The United States, of course, is much less reliant on foreign trade. In theory, then, if its nursing and similar facilities get the aid they need, America’s economy can continue reopening – and even faster than at present – without running major further health risks. Indeed, as I’ve also noted previously, such reopening per se could well curb other emerging public health dangers. Moreover, as observed by the Washington Post editorial board, moving toward the Swedish model might speed up progress toward creating herd immunity in the United States. This status would mean considerable protection against the second virus wave that might arrive along with cooler weather this fall.
As always, “reopening” doesn’t mean an immediate, complete return to the pre-virus normal. And serious uncertainties continue surrounding the nursing homes data, and indeed all virus-related data. But a pattern visible in so many high income countries can’t be dismissed, either, and it should put ever more pressure on backers of slower reopenings to justify their positions.