COVID-19

How much does the delta variant threaten the economic recovery?

Sabri Ben-Achour Jul 30, 2021
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Traders wear face masks at the New York Stock Exchange. The contagiousness of the delta coronavirus variant could restrain consumer spending. Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

How much does the delta variant threaten the economic recovery?

Sabri Ben-Achour Jul 30, 2021
Heard on:
Traders wear face masks at the New York Stock Exchange. The contagiousness of the delta coronavirus variant could restrain consumer spending. Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images
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A day after we learned the U.S. economy had regained its pre-pandemic level of economic activity, we got disturbing news about the delta variant of the coronavirus: It’s as contagious as chickenpox, according to an internal report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

We cannot understand the economy without understanding the virus, and this variant is a hard one to figure out.

But certain things are clear: First, it’s far more contagious than the original, as the CDC noted above. Second, you can get it and spread it, even if you’re vaccinated, but it’s unlikely to cause serious illness for vaccinated people.

“I think the real concern is unvaccinated ones,” said Milena Izmirlieva, head of life sciences research at IHS Markit.

“It’s all emerging evidence still, but it all seems to be pointing in the direction of potentially slightly higher severity of disease in people who are unvaccinated,” she said.

There are two main ways this could slow the economy: Governments could restrict consumers — again — or consumers could restrict themselves.

“People, in general, will be a little more hesitant to go out and about and spend,” said Gad Levanon, an economist with The Conference Board.

Particularly older people, he said, whose dollars flow disproportionately to certain industries — cruises, for example. Some local governments have introduced mask mandates, but so far that’s been about the limit.

“I really think of this more as a speed bump rather than a permanent destruction of growth,” said Michelle Meyer, an economist with Bank of America.

That’s largely because a decent number of people are fully vaccinated — around 56% of those age 12 and up.

We’re still learning about the delta variant, according to Samuel Scarpino, who directs pathogen surveillance at the Rockefeller Foundation. But one thing is for sure, he said.

“The vaccines are still highly effective at preventing severe disease and death, even against the delta variant,” Scarpino said.

So ultimately, the vaccines are as important for the economy as they are for people’s health.

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