On Balance: Integrating Economics and Epidemiology in the COVID-19 Context (4 of 4)

One of the most popular sessions at the SBCA 2021 Annual Conference was on combining economics and epidemiology to understand COVID-19. Session speaker Ellie Murray shares a brief statement below. 

Public health responses to epidemics have been developed and refined over more than five centuries of experience. In recent decades, thirteen new zoonotic infections that affect humans, from Ebola in 1976 to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in 2012, have emerged. Based on these experiences, the CDC Field Epidemiology Manual lays out a clear set of steps for outbreak investigation and response, including the importance of communicating clearly with the public. In countries and regions where time-tested public health tools based on these steps have been used, COVID is largely under control.


The tools that appear to have worked the most successfully for COVID include: 

  • Rapid identification of cases, and screening high-risk groups
  • Isolation of suspected, probable, or known cases
  • Quarantine of potentially exposed individuals
  • Non-pharmaceutical interventions (eg masking, ventilation)
  • Limiting contact opportunities
  • Increasing public awareness and buy-in

One key question going forward is whether the goal is “control at acceptable levels” or elimination (meaning no cases in humans) / eradication (meaning no cases in humans or in nature) of COVID. In many countries, the implicit goal has been “control at acceptable levels” but this goal has been set in the absence of real conversations about what constitutes an “acceptable” level of COVID and which groups are most harmed by continued circulation. Engaging in an open dialogue about a widely acceptable, and socially just, target will require communication between many different expertise areas, including epidemiology, economics, sociology, and medicine, and this in turn will require an improvement in our mutual understanding of each other’s fields, terminology, and perspectives. Work to facilitate this communication is just beginning, and the COVID pandemic has shined a spotlight on a number of key areas of misunderstanding between public health and other fields.


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