Testing and isolation may be more effective than lockdowns during pandemics, new model finds

Team of researchers from Rice and other institutions develops model to assess and address health, economic threats

COVID test

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, government officials around the world were forced to make decisions that either prioritized human health or the economy, which highlighted the dire need for a more coordinated response to dangerous pathogens that may emerge in the future.

COVID test

Rice economist Ted Loch-Temzelides and a multi-institution interdisciplinary research team are developing mathematical models to assess and address the different types of threats faced during a pandemic in order to minimize both hospitalizations and economic damage. In their most recent publication, “Balancing economic and epidemiological interventions in the early stages of pathogen emergence,” they found that a combination of testing and isolation may be a better and more cost-effective policy for reducing infections and deaths than implementing lockdowns.

Loch-Temzelides said that combined economic and epidemiological modeling is necessary in order to evaluate trade-offs and guide policy during pandemics.

“Individuals are not particles and they follow their own incentives,” he said. “This modeling approach allows us to simulate different situations, evaluate what’s happening and determine the optimal policy interventions for a variety of scenarios that might prevail in the early stages of a large-scale epidemic outbreak.”

Loch-Temzelides and his fellow researchers hope their findings will help guide policymakers when they face future outbreaks.

“COVID-19 was not the first and will not be the last novel virus to threaten mankind,” he said. “Over the past 50 years alone, we’ve had at least 20 concerning pathogens. It is critical for decision-makers to be prepared, and we hope studies like ours will help.”

The study, published recently in Science Advances, is available online at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37224240/#full-view-affiliation-2.