‘Smart containment’ could save lives — and the economy

How do you balance the devastating economic effects of a global quarantine against the mandate to  save as many lives as possible? “Smart containment” might be the answer.

That’s an approach proposed by Weinberg College economist Martin Eichenbaum, along with Kellogg School of Management professor  Sergio Rebelo and economist Mathias Trabandt of the Free University of Berlin, in a recent paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research.

“Smart containment” relies on the availability of tests to determine whether people are infected with the COVID-19 virus or possess antibodies to the disease. If they are infected, they don’t work — while susceptible people can work without the risk of becoming infected. With more people working, the economy does not suffer in a meaningful way from a recession. And ultimately the overall death toll is relatively small.

Eichenbaum, the College’s Charles Moskos Professor of Economics, says the team was “surprised” by the potential upside of the “smart containment” policies, which impose selective quarantine measures based on people’s health status.

“Compared to cruder lock-down policies, ‘smart containment’ produces a small recession and much fewer deaths from the epidemic. These results highlight the importance of quickly developing reliable tests to check whether people are infected or have recovered from the infection.”

Learn more about the research team’s “smart containment” idea.