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COVID-19 pandemic to cost US economy $16 trillion – ex-Treasury secretary

The coronavirus pandemic will cost the U.S. more than $16 trillion, making it the "greatest threat to prosperity and well-being" since the Great Depression, according to a paper co-authored by former Treasury Secretary and National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers.

The estimated cost accounts for about 90% of the country's annual GDP and translates to a loss of nearly $200,000 for a family of four, according to the commentary, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Approximately half of this amount is the lost income from the COVID-19–induced recession; the remainder is the economic effects of shorter and less healthy life," Summers and fellow Harvard University economist David Cutler wrote.

The economists counted $7.6 trillion in lost economic output during the next decade, as projected by the Congressional Budget Office, and an estimated $4.4 trillion in economic cost from premature deaths expected through 2021.

The authors estimated another $2.6 trillion in costs from long-term complications suffered by COVID-19 survivors and about $1.6 trillion in costs from mental health conditions related to the pandemic.

"These costs far exceed those associated with conventional recessions and the Iraq War, and are similar to those associated with global climate change," the authors wrote, warning that the cumulative coronavirus deaths in the U.S. through 2021 would reach 625,000 if current trajectories continue.

With Congress and the White House still in a stalemate over the size and scope of the next coronavirus stimulus legislation, the study called for a bill that sets aside at least 5% of economic relief intervention for increased COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, saying the economic benefits of the investments in such measures are 30 times higher than the estimated costs.

"More generally, the immense financial loss from COVID-19 suggests a fundamental rethinking of government's role in pandemic preparation," the authors said. "Currently, the U.S. prioritizes spending on acute treatment, with far less spending on public health services and infrastructure."