Severe COVID-19 is characterized by hospitalization with a small risk of death. The costs of severe COVID so far in Teton County, by my estimation, are $38 million.

That’s $26 million for the years of life lost prematurely to COVID and $12 million for the costs of hospitalization. These calculations are based on the 14 COVID deaths as of Dec. 17, 2021, in Teton County, before the omicron variant. Each death represents a loss of 14.8 years of life expectancy, totaling 207 years of life lost, at an economic value of $125,000 per year of life.

Life expectancy is estimated from U.S. population data on COVID deaths in the whole country since genders and ages of the Teton County COVID-related deaths are not publicly available. The $125,000 economic value for one year of life was obtained from a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2014. It is a well-established metric that has been in use (adjusted for inflation) since the 1970s by health economists, outcomes researchers, policy analysts and health-care decision makers.

Of 5,478 COVID cases, 8% were estimated to require hospitalization in Teton County, per public information reported in September. An estimated 1.9% of hospitalizations required intubation and 6.1% of hospitalizations did not require intubation, according to the USC-Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy report of May 2020. The report also provided the per-case costs for each category of hospital care at Medicare rates, putting the total cost of hospitalizations with and without intubation at $12 million.

Applying the same assumptions to all of Wyoming, the value of lost life expectancy from COVID death across the state is $2.7 billion, the cost of hospitalization is $236 million, and the total is $3 billion.

The above estimates show the economic costs associated with severe COVID are substantial, and the value of lost lives due to premature COVID death represents a major share of these costs. It is hoped the health and economic consequences of COVID will motivate county and state leadership to fight more effectively to protect all citizens from this virus.

The above economic estimates are partial. No account has been made of the economic costs associated with the 92% of all COVID cases that did not require hospital care. Nor was an account made of broader economic consequences to families, employers, civic institutions and the entire economy when people have gotten ill or died.

Businesses report they are unable to remain open, and hospitals report having to restrict or cancel routine health care services, all due to labor shortages caused by staff infected with, or exposed to, COVID.

Lastly, it is not possible to quantify the health and economic consequences of “long COVID,” which some believe could affect as many as 30% of all COVID cases. If long-term consequences are serious, the corresponding health and economic consequences could be enormous.

Decision analysis is basically “looking forward, then reasoning back.” If we wish to minimize the health and economic consequences of COVID to us all, we must do two things: reduce virus transmission while reducing the severity of illness in anyone who nevertheless gets infected.

In other words, to minimize the health and economic consequences of COVID on our society we must all get vaccinated. We must also mask in public to protect those who cannot get vaccinated or who will not benefit fully from vaccination, and we must do this until the pandemic is controlled.

From a decision-analysis perspective there is no better alternative.

Tom Hogan is an economist who lives in Wilson. He has worked in the fields of health economics and outcomes research in the health care industry. Guest Shots are solely the opinion of their author.

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