Top economists call on states to ‘Start Over and Do It Right’ to contain COVID-19

Media Releases

Media Contacts
Matt Wellington

Former Director, Public Health Campaigns, PIRG

Minimizing economic damage requires containing the virus first


WASHINGTON — “Our nation’s economy will remain in crisis as long as the COVID-19 virus spreads unchecked,” according to an open letter economists from leading universities signed in response to the botched pandemic response across the United States. The letter, circulated by U.S. PIRG, calls on public officials to “Start Over and Do It Right” to contain COVID-19 this time. 

“As experts on economic theory and practice, we have come together to insist that you reconsider your understanding of the economic reality we face. By opening the economy and thus encouraging people to meet up at bars, gyms, restaurants, stores and other gatherings, we are prolonging the harm. Those meetings drive up disease, and therefore deaths,” notes the letter.

U.S. PIRG’s open letter to policymakers is signed by 22 economists from 17 leading universities and colleges. Signers include James Galbraith, Ph.D. of the University of Texas at Austin, Martin Ravallion, Ph.D. of Georgetown University, Jerry Green, Ph.D. of Harvard University, Donald Davis, Ph.D. of Columbia University, Amalia Miller, Ph.D. of the University of Virginia, Francine D. Blau, Ph.D. of Cornell University, and Debraj Ray, Ph.D. of New York University. 

“The reasonable fear that results from rampant serious illness and sudden death is a potent economic factor that will keep people’s economic lives on hold for a very long time,” the experts emphasize in the letter. 

The letter aligns with arguments made by the presidents of the Federal Reserve Banks of Minneapolis and Boston, Neel Kashkari and Eric Rosengren, as well as former Federal Reserve Bank Chairs Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke, who testified before Congress last month that “controlling the spread of the virus must be the first priority for restoring more-normal levels of economic activity—but, more importantly, for saving possibly tens of thousands of lives.”

The economists call on state and federal leaders to do the following: 

– Close non-essential businesses in states not meeting public health benchmarks for containing the coronavirus:

  • 1 new case daily per 100,000 of population; and
  • less than 3 percent of tests returning a “positive” result. 

– Set and enforce state-level travel restrictions for anyone arriving from another state that is not currently meeting public health benchmarks.

– Coordinate production and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) and COVID-19 tests in sufficient quantities to keep all Americans safe.

– For the duration of the shutdowns, provide the following: 

  • Effective protections for essential workers including PPE; 
  • Income support sufficient to provide essentials for those who are unable to work;  
  • A continued strict freeze on evictions, foreclosures and utility stoppages, with a mechanism to work out the arrears once the pandemic is controlled.

According to the Covid Exit Strategy Map, the majority of the U.S. states are not in a position to safely reopen.