Skip to main content

Economic Benefits of COVID-19 Screening Tests

Staff Report 616 | Published November 9, 2020

Download PDF

Authors

Michael Droste Harvard University

Michael J. Mina Harvard University

James H. Stock Harvard University

Economic Benefits of COVID-19 Screening Tests

Abstract

We assess the economic value of screening testing programs as a policy response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We find that the fiscal, macroeconomic, and health benefits of rapid SARS-CoV-2 screening testing programs far exceed their costs, with the ratio of economic benefits to costs typically in the range of 2-15 (depending on program details), not counting the monetized value of lives saved. Unless the screening test is highly specific, however, the signal value of the screening test alone is low, leading to concerns about adherence. Confirmatory testing increases the net economic benefits of screening tests by reducing the number of healthy workers in quarantine and by increasing adherence to quarantine measures. The analysis is undertaken using a behavioral SIR model for the United States with 5 age groups, 66 economic sectors, screening and diagnostic testing, and partial adherence to instructions to quarantine or to isolate.