The number of coronavirus-related deaths and the economic impact of the pandemic over the next two months will vary widely depending on how quickly the U.S. economy reopens, according to a new model, with even the best-case scenario exceeding the fatalities predicted by President Donald Trump.
Even with no changes to the current patchwork of state-mandated business closures and social distancing guidelines, the number of coronavirus cases in the United States could reach 2.3 million by the end of June, with 117,000 deaths, according to the new Penn Wharton Budget Model analysis released Friday.
And if state governments relax all business restrictions, throw open travel and commerce, and drop all social distancing guidelines, the Penn model predicts a worst-case scenario of 8 million cases and 350,000 deaths in the next two months.
“If states fully reopen, that could be the worst-case number, using currently available models,” Wharton professor Kent Smetters said.
As the death toll surpassed 56,000 on Monday, Trump said during a news briefing that while “we’ve lost a lot of people... if you look at what original projections were, 2.2 million, we are probably heading to 60,000 to 70,000.”
As of Thursday, there were more than one million confirmed cases in the U.S., and more than 62,000 deaths.
Models that attempt to predict the spread of the virus have ranged widely in projections, and have shifted as states enact measures to slow the virus. With the rate of new infections slowing, public officials and business leaders are debating how widely and how quickly to reopen an economy that has been in free fall, with more than 30 million people losing their jobs.
Trump is a graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
The report examines almost every state, and shows that economic recovery depends less on government policy and more on people’s behavior.
The online simulator tool is available at the Penn Wharton Budget Model website here: https://budgetmodel.wharton.upenn.edu/issues/2020/5/1/coronavirus-reopening-simulator.
The Penn Wharton Budget Model projects that partially relaxing lockdown orders would increase year-over-year U.S. GDP by about 1% in the second quarter 2020, and save about 4.4 million jobs by the end of the quarter. Fully reopening the economy would increase year-over-year GDP by about 1.5% in the second quarter of 2020 and eliminate almost all net job losses between May 1 and June 30.
Of course, reopening policies vary by state.
For example, Smetters said, virus deaths in Georgia are flattening, and so reopening causes a relatively smaller increase in deaths than it would in a state like Pennsylvania, which is still seeing a higher viral reproductive rate.
“By the end of June, despite their comparable population sizes, fully reopening Georgia would cause about 6,000 additional deaths while reopening Pennsylvania would cause about 10,000 additional deaths,” he estimated.
Day to day, workplace experts say, returning to work will never be the same as before the pandemic.
“This has thrown everyone for a loop," said Todd Cohen, Philadelphia-based author of the business book Everyone’s in Sales. "Businesses must scramble, reinvent, pivot, and do whatever is necessary to survive and ensure a path forward.”