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Stevenson and Wolfers: Michigan’s go-slow approach good for public health and economy

August 13, 2020

When other states were reopening their economies in May, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was taking a go-slow approach, which infuriated small business owners and Republican legislators. An article in Mlive says that as COVID-19 cases are surging in other states, her go-slow approach may be vindicated.

The article quotes Ford School economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers as saying that in addition to validating the warnings of public-health experts, the surge of coronavirus cases in the South and West this summer also underscore a point made by economists throughout the crisis.

“We can’t have economic health without public health,” says Wolfers. “The most important economic stimulus we can generate will be to beat the bug.”

States which opened their economies prematurely are learning that painful lesson, Wolfers says.

“Small shifts to reopen the economy prematurely risk reigniting the virus yielding a massive economic and health cost, for only a very minor economic benefit,” he says. “There’s no question that the current outbreaks reflect bad public health choices in a bunch of states, and rather than stimulating economic growth, this has caused it to stall and even go into reverse.”

Stevenson is quoted as saying that even if significant numbers of people voluntarily curtail activities, some do not -- and it doesn’t take much to fuel spread of the disease. She suggests the shutdown orders get too little credit for controlling the virus and too much blame for damage to the economy.

“The thing to realize is the shutdown was really important to contain the virus,” Stevenson says. “But it wasn’t responsible for 100% of the economic decline. It wasn’t even responsible for 50%.”

The article can be read here.