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Economic Brief

June 4, 2021

Was There a Better Way to Contain COVID-19?

What if quarantine, contact tracing and random testing were used instead of universal stay-at-home orders to battle COVID-19? The result may have been less economic fallout and fewer deaths overall, according to the latest Economic Brief from the Richmond Fed.

Andreas Hornstein, a senior advisor with the Richmond Fed, used a model that eschewed universal stay-at-home orders in favor of quarantines of infectious individuals, contact tracing to identify asymptomatic people and random testing to further identify asymptomatic individuals. He found that the net economic benefit from a policy that avoided the sharp economic slowdown in 2020 would have been about $0.4 trillion and cumulative deaths. would have decreased from 0.1 percent of the U.S. population to 0.042 percent.

The Richmond Fed’s Economic Brief series provides essays on economic issues and trends. Sign up to receive an email notification when a new essay is posted.


As part of our nation’s central bank, the Richmond Fed is one of 12 regional Reserve Banks working together with the Board of Governors to support a healthy economy and deliver on our mission to foster economic stability and strength. We connect with community and business leaders across the Fifth Federal Reserve District — including the Carolinas, District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, and most of West Virginia — to monitor economic conditions, address issues facing our communities, and share this information with monetary and financial policymakers. We also work with banks to ensure they are operating safely and soundly, supply financial institutions with currency that’s fit for distribution, and provide a safe and efficient way to transfer funds through our nation’s payments system.

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