University of Wyoming researchers say that the social distancing measures to slow the coronavirus have dramatically reduced the number of deaths that could have occurred.

That is because social distancing not only reduces the rate of infections, but also the associated reduction in air pollution.

This new research, which will be appearing in the journal Environmental and Resource Economics, is the latest in a series of coronavirus-related studies by UW economists Assistant Professor Stephen Newbold, Professor David Finnoff, Assistant Professor Linda Thunstrom, graduate student Madison Ashworth, from Star Valley, and Professor Jason Shogren, all in the College of Business.

In their new analysis, the economists developed a more detailed model that shows just over 4 million people in the U.S. could die if no physical distancing or other measures were used to control the COVID-19 outbreak.

Even with projected declines in U.S. gross domestic product of just under 6 percent to nearly 8 percent as a result of COVID-19 distancing, the benefits of lives saved more than justify the measures, the researchers say.

The researchers do note that their study does not take into account the potential benefits resulting from the use of cloth face protection or testing and tracing programs, nor the potential side-effects of physical distancing.

The economists also suggest further research into the impacts of long-term changes that may result from the pandemic.

The researchers conclude, “if COVID-19 leads to behavioral changes as durable as those spurred by past epidemics, the environmental implications of the outbreak may extend far beyond the short-term air pollution impacts examined here."

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