WSU Researchers Study Industry Characteristics to Guide Openings in Face of COVID-19

Researchers at Wayne State University in Detroit have completed an analysis that studied specific industry characteristics to guide industry openings in a way that lowers contagion risks and maximizes economic benefits until broader COVID-19 testing becomes available and immunity testing becomes efficient and reliable enough.
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WSU researchers have created guidelines for a gradual reopening of the economy that would minimize contagion risks. // Image courtesy of Wayne State University

Researchers at Wayne State University in Detroit have completed an analysis that studied specific industry characteristics to guide industry openings in a way that lowers contagion risks and maximizes economic benefits until broader COVID-19 testing becomes available and immunity testing becomes efficient and reliable enough.

“With protective gear and testing still in limited supply, there is a need to find the safest way to open and operate businesses to avoid a resurgence of the virus,” says Dr. Phillip Levy, professor of emergency medicine and assistant vice president for translational science and clinical research innovation at WSU, and chief innovation officer for the WSU Physician Group. “It is critical that we look at alternatives to lower contagion risks and maximize economic benefits. Using specific industry characteristics to guide industries in their reopening efforts will be key to lowering the further spread of the virus.”

Shooshan Danagoulian, assistant professor of economics, led the research. Levy and Zhe Zhu, assistant professor of economics, also worked on it.

The scope for physical distancing and remote work will vary by industry and region. The team focused on Michigan and metro Detroit.

Some of the points of the paper include:

  • As further understanding of the virus and human response to the infection develop, immunity testing could be combined with use of personal protective equipment and physical distancing to minimize the spread. By doing so, a more nuanced approach to social distancing could be achieved, enabling an earlier implementation of mechanisms to restart production and jump-start the economy.
  • Some occupations and industries are better able to operate with effective physical distancing. The proximity index recently developed by St. Louis Federal Reserve indicates the physical distance from other people involved in carrying out work by occupation. Some essential occupations do not allow for physical distancing, such as health care and first responders, but innovations can enable other workers who traditionally have close physical contact to work remotely through tools such as telemedicine and professional services.
  • Low-proximity industries, or those that allow for physical distancing, tend to interact predominantly with other low-proximity industries, reducing viral spread. Targeted testing and reopening in these industries are viable options.
  • Some occupations can accommodate working from home. The auto industry, which employs more than 188,000 workers in Michigan, is operating at 17 percent capacity. Workers in design and engineering can work remotely, but production workers cannot. It is, however, possible to maintain physical distancing on the factory floor.
  • Widespread furlough and layoffs could have a devastating effect on the local economy. Layoffs in the automotive industry alone would result in a $495 million monthly loss in personal income. This will have a widespread impact on taxes and other entities such as local food pantries and social services.

The research team also believes that immunity testing of workers in targeted low-proximity industries with low capacity to work remotely could eventually be an efficient and practical use of a limited resource. A potential winter recurrence of COVID-19 may also necessitate industry prioritization plans to help reduce economic fallout of future social distancing measures.

“Immunity testing has the potential to become an important strategy to reopening selective industries that have a lower risk to spreading the virus,” Levy says. “They could contribute significantly to restarting the economic engine, which will be critical to all of our lives.”

The paper is titled “Prioritizing Testing and Workplace Re-opening Under COVID-19” and appeared in Econofact on April 29. It is available here.

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