CHAPEL HILL – The economic costs of the lockdown in North Carolina is hurting younger and middle-aged people harder, according to research released by the Kenan Institute on Tuesday.

“[It] may seem counter intuitive given that the disease impacts disproportionately older people,” said Kenan Institute Executive Director Greg Brown in a press briefing conference via Zoom. “But younger and middle aged people tend to be less financially secure and more dependent on wage income.”

African American, Hispanic, low-income, low-education, and single households are also all significantly more vulnerable.

It’s one of several findings coming out of a new framework devised by the Instiitute that aims to provide a cost-benefit analysis of reopening the economy amid COVID-19.

The dashboard aims aggregates real-time, non-standard economic and public health data, highlighting the difficult tradeoffs between the virus and lockdown costs in a bid shape public policy.

It’s all about informed risk-taking, said Brown.

“We don’t claim to have any expertise on the healthcare side; we’re not public health experts. However, the one unanimous opinion from business leaders that we’ve talked to is that there is a need for more data,” he said.

“Many feel that they’re flying blind given the limited amount of granular real-time data they have access to.”

The difficult tradeoffs

The indirect healthcare effects of the shutdown are significant, the research noted.

More than a third (42 percent) of North Carolinians (and the broader U.S.population) report delaying a healthcare procedure or doctor visit because of the pandemic.

Sheltering in place is also associated with elevated cases of anxiety and depression. Almost a quarter (24 percent) of Americans currently report that they are experiencing moderate or severe anxiety or depression.

Ultimately, Brown argues that “openness” should be tied to evolving hospital capacity.

Using data from the North Carolina Department of Health and HumanServices (NCDHHS), Kenan 
estimates that North Carolina currently has about 23 percent hospital capacity remaining. If needed, capacity could be expanded by roughly another 10 percent by expansion and deploying unstaffed beds.

Meanwhile, NorthCarolina is currently using just 25 percent of available ventilators.

Brown couldn’t commit to saying North Carolina is ready to begin Phase 3 of reopening on July 16.

“We’re going to have to wait and see,” he said.  
“People have to have to be willing to participate in the economy and feel safe going out and conducting business for opening to really be sustainable, and effective. So I don’t feel like we’re there.”

UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School Professor Christian Lundblad said the only path forward ultimately hinges upon a “healthy dose of intelligent risk taking informed by real time high quality health and economic data.”

COVID-19 recession deals heavy blow to financial future of GenZ