Posts tagged with "MIT"

COVID Mask Care illustration by Mina Tocalini

Study Shows State-By-State Reopenings Exacerbate COVID

As Summer vacations end in Europe and in the United States and students return to college campuses and primary schools worldwide, fresh waves of COVID infections are causing renewed restrictions after loosening in the Spring and Summer. However, a new study shows that this uncoordinated opening, closing, and reopening of states and counties, is making the COVID problem worse in the U.S., according to the authors of a new study released today. Using methods from their previous work, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, MIT PhD student Michael Zhao and Sinan Aral, Director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy and author of the upcoming book The Hype Machine, have released the first comprehensive study of the impact of state-by-state re-openings on the COVID pandemic, spanning January to July, 2020 with surprising and troubling results.

After studying combined data on the mobility of over 22 million mobile devices, daily data on state-level closure and reopening policies and social media connections among 220 million Facebook users, the team found that reimposing local social distancing or shelter-in-place orders after reopening may be far less effective than policy makers would hope.

In fact, such closures may actually be counterproductive as they encourage those in locked down regions to flee to reopened regions, potentially causing new hotspots to emerge. This analysis demonstrates that travel spillovers are not only systematic and predictable, but also large and meaningful.

Arizona was one of the first states to open businesses, but in late June, bars, gyms, movie theaters, and water parks were shut down for 30 days as the state became one of the virus’s new hot spots. One month after dine-in restaurants, bars, and gyms were allowed to reopen in California, Governor Gavin Newsom made the country’s most aggressive reopening reversal amid his state’s spike in COVID-19 cases, shuttering all indoor dining, bars, zoos, and museums in the state. Similar reversals have occurred in Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, West Virginia among other states.

“We’ve seen a patchwork of flip-flopping state policies across the country,” says Sinan Aral, the senior author of the study. “The problem is that, when they are uncoordinated, state re-openings and even closures create massive travel spillovers that are spreading the virus across state borders. If we continue to pursue ad hoc policies across state and regional borders, we’re going to have a difficult time controlling this virus, reopening our economy or even sending our kids back to school.”

The new study showed that while closures directly reduced mobility by 5-6%, re-openings returned mobility to pre-pandemic levels. Once all of a state’s peer states (in travel or social media influence) locked down, focal county mobility in that state dropped by an additional 15-20% but increased by 19-32% once peer states reopened. “State policies have effects far beyond their borders,” says Aral. “We desperately need coordination if we are to control this virus.”

When an origin county was subject to a statewide shelter-in-place order, travel to counties yet to impose lockdowns increased by 52-65%. If the origin had reopened, but the destination was still closed, travel to destination counties was suppressed by 9-17% for nearby counties and 21-27% for distant counties. But when a destination reopened while an origin was still closed, people from the closed origins flooded into the destination by 11-12% from nearby counties and 24% from distant counties. “People flee closures and flood into newly reopened states,” says Aral, “we can’t avoid the travel spillovers caused by our ad hoc policies.”

These findings highlight the urgent need to coordinate COVID-19 reopenings across regions and the risks created by ad hoc local shutdowns and reopenings. In addition, the results highlight the importance of taking spillover effects seriously when formulating national policy and for national and local policies to coordinate across regions where spillovers are strong.

Graph illustration done by Mina Tocalini of 360 MAGAZINE.

Economic Devastation From Uncoordinated Reopenings

New, peer-reviewed research published today by the Social Analytics Lab at the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows the devastating cost of the current chaotic and uncoordinated reopening of states and cities across the US. The study, which used data from mobile phones, network connections through social media and census data, estimates that total welfare is reduced dramatically when reopening is not coordinated among states and regions.

The study showed, for example, that the contact patterns of people in a given region are significantly influenced by the policies and behaviors of people in other, sometimes distant regions. In one finding, it showed that when just one third of a state’s social and geographic peer states adopt shelter in place policies, it creates a reduction in mobility equal to the state’s own policy decisions. When states fail to coordinate in the presence of spillovers as large as those detected in the analyses, total welfare is reduced by almost 70 percent. 

As federal, state and local governments continue opening businesses and relaxing shelter-in-place orders nationwide, policymakers are doing so without quantitative evidence on how policies in one region affect mobility and social distancing in other regions. And while some states are coordinating on COVID policy at the level of “mega regions,” most, unfortunately are not. This lack of coordination will have devastating effects on efforts to control COVID-19, according to the study.

“There have been many calls for a coordinated national pandemic response in the U.S. and around the world, but little hard evidence has quantified this need,” said Sinan Aral, Director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy and a corresponding author of the study. “When we analyzed the data, we were shocked by the degree to which state policies affected outcomes in other states, sometimes at great distances. Travel and social influence over digital media make this pandemic much more interdependent than we originally thought.” “Our results suggest an immediate need for a nationally coordinated policy across states, regions and nations around the world,” he added.

Governors from all states and territories will convene virtually for the Summer meeting of The National Governor’s Association on August 5. The MIT study not only assesses the impact of an uncoordinated reopening, but also gives governors a map with which to coordinate in the absence of national guidance. The research shows for all fifty states, which states affect each other the most and thus maps the states that should be coordinating. These maps are sometimes surprising because, as a result of digital social media, each state’s success with social distancing is impacted by the policy decisions not just of geographically proximate states, but also of socially connected, but geographically distant states. For instance, Florida’s social distancing was most affected by New York implementing a shelter-in-place policy due to social media influence and travel between the states, despite their physical distance. New Hampshire had a strong influence on adjacent Massachusetts, despite being a small state.

As the Governor’s Association convenes, this research highlights the need for states across the country to coordinate, even if they are not near one another and the results suggest which states should be coordinating with which other states based on the strength of the spillovers between them.

Follow MIT Sloan School of Management: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Schools Debate Fall Opening

By Eamonn Burke

As the Coronavirus spreads at its fastest pace yet in the United States, schools and colleges are facing the tough question of how to face the fall semester. Education facilities from kindergarten to graduate school have to rethink how classes will be run in person, and if they will be run in person at all.

According to the Federal Government, opening all schools in person is the imperative course of action. President Trump and his Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are practically demanding schools to re-open, as Trump even threatened to cut funding to education if they do not. “We’re very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools—get them open.” Trump said at an event last week. Secretary DeVos backed him, asserting that re-opening schools “should absolutely be the goal.”

However, for public school districts and colleges, the situation is not so clear-cut. California, one of the COVID-19 hotspots in the world, the two largest districts of San Diego and Los Angeles have announced that they will not reopen for in-person instruction. Many districts, such as New York City, are pursuing a more hybrid plan, which involves partial in-person learning in three different models propped by Mayor DeBlasio. The state of New York as a whole is allowing districts to open based on certain criteria. In some cases, such as Nashville, districts have actually had to backpedal and turn over plans to re-open in light of the recent spike in coronavirus cases across the nation.

Colleges, both public and private, face the same dilemma. While some have announced full closure in the fall, such as the State universities in California, others such as Harvard, Princeton, and Georgetown will bring students to campus in a limited manner. Harvard and Princeton will have roughly half of the students on campus for each semester, split by grade, although all classes will remain online. Harvard will not discount their tuition, while Princeton will offer 10% off. Other universities such as Carnegie Mellon are offering more flexibility, allowing students to choose which semester to come back and offering some classes with both a remote and in-person option.

Another complicating factor in decisions for colleges are the new restrictions on international students put in place by ICE under Trumps administration. These rules, stating that international students who have only online classes must go back to their country, have caused more than 200 universities to sue the Trump administration, following in suit of Harvard and MIT. These rules were dropped quickly after facing the wide opposition.

Covid and health illustration

Environmental Effects × COVID-19

MIT Sloan School of Management study shows potential long-term environment effects from COVID-19 and the findings show a decrease in clean energy investment could exacerbate health crisis

While the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced air pollution in the U.S., the longer-term impact on the environment is unclear. In a recent study, MIT Sloan School of Management Prof. Christopher Knittel and Prof. Jing Li analyzed the short- and long-term effects, finding that the actual impact will depend on the policy response to the pandemic. Their study suggests that pushing back investments in renewable electricity generation by one year could outweigh the emission reductions and deaths avoided from March through June 2020.

“The pandemic raises two important questions related to the environment. First, what is the short-run impact on fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions? Second – and more important but harder to answer – what are the longer-term implications from the pandemic on those same variables? The health impacts from the pandemic could stretch out for decades if not centuries depending on the policy response,” says Knittel.

In their study, the researchers analyzed the short-term impact of the pandemic on CO2 emissions in the U.S. from late March to June 7, 2020. They found a 50% reduction in the use of jet fuel and a 30% reduction in the use of gasoline. The use of natural gas in residential and commercial buildings declined by almost 20% and overall electricity demand declined by less than 10%. However, the professors point out that the shutdown also halted most investment in the transition to low-carbon energy. In addition, clean energy jobs decreased by almost 600,000 by the end of April.

“The short-term impact of the pandemic is clear, but the long-term impact is highly uncertain,” says Li. “It will depend on how long it takes to bring the pandemic under control and how long any economic recession lasts.”

The best-case scenario, according to the researchers, is a swift and low-cost strategy to control the virus, allowing the economy to reopen by the end of 2020. In this scenario, investment trends prior to the pandemic will continue.

“Unfortunately, we view a second scenario as more likely,” notes Knittel. “In this scenario, the consequences of the pandemic will be greater, with many more deaths and deeper disruptions to supply chains, and a persistent global recession. The need to backpedal on the reopening of the economy due to flare-ups could destroy rather than defer the demand for goods and services.”

In this scenario, the delays in investments in renewables and vehicle fuel economy could lead to an additional 2,500 MMT of CO2 from 2020-2035, which could cause 40 deaths per month on average or 7,500 deaths during that time.

“Our findings suggest that even just pushing back all renewable electricity generation investments by one year would outweigh the emissions reductions and avoided deaths from March to June of 2020. However, the energy policy response to COVID-19 is the wild card that can change everything,” they wrote in an article for Joule.

Li explains that budgets will be strained to pay for the costs of the virus, making it challenging to invest in clean energy. And if a recession persists, there may be pressure to lessen climate change mitigation goals. However, stimulus packages could focus on clean energy, increasing clean air, clean jobs, and national security.

“Just stabilizing the economy can go a long way to putting clean energy trends back on track. We need to solve the pandemic and continue to address climate change. Otherwise, it will lead to even more tragedy,” adds Knittel.

Li and Knittel are coauthors of “The short-run and long-run effects of COVID-19 on energy and the environment” with Kenneth Gillingham and Marten Ovaere of Yale University and Mar Reguant of Northwestern University. Their paper was published in a June issue of Joule.

Mina Tocalini, 360 Magazine, COVID-19

Covid Death Reports

New research by a team at the MIT Sloan School of Management estimates that COVID-19 cases and deaths are 12 times and 1.5 times higher than official reports, respectively.  The study examined 84 of the most affected nations, spanning 4.75 billion people.  The researchers estimate 88.5 million cases and 600 thousand deaths through June 18, 2020. 

Despite substantial under-reporting, however, these nations remain well below the level needed for herd immunity.  Absent breakthroughs in treatment or vaccines, and with only mild improvements in policies to control the pandemic, the researchers estimate a total of 249 million (186-586) cases and 1.75 million (1.40-3.67) deaths by Spring 2021.

Earlier and stronger policies to reduce transmission when the pandemic was first declared, together with the deployment of extensive testing, could have averted approximately 197,000 deaths, nearly one third of the estimated total.

However, they say, future cases and deaths are now less dependent on testing and more contingent on the willingness of communities and governments to reduce transmission, such as by reducing contacts with others, physical distancing, and better hygiene, including masks. 

The nations with the highest estimated percentage of their populations infected to date include Ecuador (18%), Peru (16.6%), Chile (15.5%), Mexico (8.8%), Iran (7.9%), Qatar (7.3%), Spain (7.1%), USA (5.3%), UK (5.2%), and the Netherlands (4.8%).

The paper, Estimating the Global Spread of COVID-19, is co-authored by MIT Sloan’s Hazhir Rahmandad, Associate Professor of System Dynamics; Professor John Sterman, Director of the MIT Systems Dynamics Group; and Ph.D. candidate Tse Yang Lim.

Using data for all 84 countries with reliable testing data (spanning 4.75 billion people), they developed a dynamic epidemiological model integrating data on cases, deaths, excess mortality and other factors to estimate how asymptomatic cases, disease acuity, hospitalization, and behavioral and policy responses to risk affect COVID transmission and the Infection Fatality Rate (IFR)—the probability of death after becoming infected—across nations and over time. IFR depends not only on the age and health of the population, but on the adequacy of health care and the effectiveness of protections for the most vulnerable, including the elderly.  The researchers estimate IFR to be 0.68% on average (0.64%-0.7%), but find it varies substantially across nations: approximately 0.56% for Iceland, 0.64% New Zealand, 0.99% for the USA, 1.59% for the UK, and 2.08% for Italy.

Follow MIT Sloan: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube

Covid and health illustration

MIT COVID-19 Research

Why does the coronavirus kill some Americans, while leaving others relatively unscathed?

A new study by researchers at the MIT Sloan School of Management sheds light on that question. The study, by Christopher R. Knittel, the George P. Shultz Professor of Applied Economics at MIT Sloan, and Bora Ozaltun, a Graduate Research Assistant in the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research (CEEPR) lab, correlates COVID-19 death rates in the U.S. states with a variety of factors, including patients’ race, age, health and socioeconomic status, as well as their local climate, exposure to air pollution, and commuting patterns.

The findings have important implications for determining who is most at risk of dying from the virus and for how policymakers respond to the pandemic.
Using linear regression and negative binomial mixed models, the researchers analyzed daily county-level COVID-19 death rates from April 4 to May 27 of this year. Similar to prior studies, they found that African Americans and elderly people are more likely to die from the infection relative to Caucasians and people under the age of 65. Importantly, they did not find any correlation between obesity rates, ICU beds per capita, or poverty rates.

“Identifying these relationships is key to helping leaders understand both what’s causing the correlation and also how to formulate policies that address it,” says Prof. Knittel.

“Why, for instance, are African Americans more likely to die from the virus than other races? Our study controls for patients’ income, weight, diabetic status, and whether or not they’re smokers. So, whatever is causing this correlation, it’s none of those things. We must examine other possibilities, such as systemic racism that impacts African Americans’ quality of insurance, hospitals, and healthcare, or other underlying health conditions that are not in the model, and then urge policymakers to look at other ways to solve the problem.”

The study, which has been released as a Center for Energy and Environmental Policy working paper and is in the process of being released as a working paper on medRxiv, a preprint server for health sciences, contains additional insights about what does, and does not, correlate with COVID-19 death rates. For instance, the researchers did not find a correlation between exposure to air pollution. This finding contradicts earlier studies that indicated that coronavirus patients living in areas with high levels of air pollution before the pandemic were more likely to die from the infection than patients in cleaner parts of the country.

According to Prof. Knittel, the “statistical significance of air pollution and mortality from COVID-19 is likely spurious.”

The researchers did, however, find that patients who commute via public transportation are more likely to die from the disease relative to those who telecommute. They also find that a higher share of people not working, and thus not commuting, have higher death rates.

“The sheer magnitude of the correlation between public transit and mortality is huge, and at this point, we can only speculate on the reasons it increases vulnerability to experiencing the most severe COVID-19 outcomes,” says Prof. Knittel. “But at a time when many U.S. states are reopening and employees are heading back to work, thereby increasing ridership on public transportation, it is critical that public health officials zero in on the reason.”

The proportion of Americans who have died from COVID-19 varies dramatically from state to state. The statistical models that Knittel and Ozaltun created yield estimates of the relative death rates across states, after controlling for all of the factors in their model. Death rates in the Northeast are substantially higher compared to other states. Death rates are also significantly higher in Michigan, Louisiana, Iowa, Indiana, and Colorado. California’s death rate is the lowest across all states.

Curiously, the study found that patients who live in U.S. counties with higher home values, higher summer temperatures, and lower winter temperatures are more likely to die from the illness than patients in counties with lower home values, cooler summer weather, and warmer winter weather. This implies that social distancing policies will continue to be necessary in places with hotter summers and colder winters, according to the researchers.

“Some of these correlations are baffling and deserve further study, but regardless, our findings can help guide policymakers through this challenging time,” says Ozaltun. “It’s clear that there are important and statistically significant difference in death rates across states. We need to investigate what’s driving those differences and see if we can understand how we might do things differently.”

Nicholas Johnson × Princeton

After 274 years, Princeton names Nicholas Johnson as their first Black Valedictorian. Before the Canadian heads off to MIT for grad school, both Michelle Obama and Oprah congratulate him via social media for his recent accomplishments.

(Photo by Lisa Festa)

Modest Carbon Tax

A recent MIT Sloan study found that a federal carbon price of $7 in 2020 could reduce emissions by the same amount as all of the flagship climate policies adopted by the Obama administration. In a paper released by the MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research (CEEPR , Prof. Christopher Knittel models the carbon price needed to achieve projected emission reductions under Obama-era vehicle mileage standards, the Clean Power Plan, and a biofuel mandate.

“This shows the power of a price on carbon,” says Knittel, who is director of the CEEPR. “As little as a 7-cent price increase per gallon of gasoline and less than half a penny per kWh of electricity could get us the same climate benefits as the fragile, costly, and litigious regulations that represent President Obama’s climate legacy. And let’s not forget that all these regulations are under attack by the current administration.”

In his study, he found that matching the emissions reductions forecast under each regulation would not be enough to get the U.S. on a long-term path to decarbonation. However, a carbon tax that increases over time could reduce emissions by the same amount as all of those regulations combined.

“We’re still only looking at $22 per tonne in 2025 and $36 per tonne in 2030 if we include all major greenhouse gases,” explains Knittel. “If we get really serious about climate policy, the costs will only rise, and the cost-saving potential of carbon pricing will become even more important.”

As decision makers in the U.S. consider policy options to revitalize U.S. climate policy for 2020 and beyond, Knittel says that these results could be a political game changer. “This first effort to model the carbon tax equivalent of alternative climate regulations could help build a consensus around more cost-effective policies. Instead of trying to bring back earlier rules such as the Clean Power Plan, a new administration would do well to focus on one of the many carbon tax proposals introduced on Capitol Hill by both sides of the political aisle.”

He adds, “If we can make a given climate outcome more affordable, then we can also aim higher sooner. And we know that, under all scenarios, we have to drastically increase our efforts to meet the climate challenge.” Knittel is the author of “Diary of a Wimpy Carbon Tax: Carbon Taxes as Federal Climate Policy.” MIT Sloan School of Management is where smart, independent leaders come together to solve problems, create new organizations, and improve the world. Learn more at mitsloan.mit.edu.

MIT: Millennials Drive A Lot

While it is common to believe that Millennials are fundamentally disrupting a wide variety of industries due to their divergent preferences—especially the car industry—new research from MIT suggests that this is not the case.  

“Many Millennials report they prioritize environmentally friendly products,” says Christopher Knittel of the Sloan School at MIT, but our study shows that the so-called “Green Generation” does not exhibit significantly different preferences when it comes to transport. And that’s bad news for the environment and our battle with climate change.”

The study, Generational Trends in Vehicle Ownership and Use: Are Millennials Any Different? by MIT Sloan School Professors Christopher R. Knittel and Elizabeth Murphy http://ceepr.mit.edu/publications/working-papers/700 focused on two main facets of personal mobility: vehicle ownership, measured by how many vehicles a given household owns, and vehicle usage, measured by annual vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Each of these provides different insights; vehicle ownership gives a better understanding of the market for personal vehicles, while vehicle miles traveled provides insight on vehicle fleet usage as well as environmental footprints. 

The authors found that although a simple comparison of average ownership and use would suggest a difference, once you control for confounding variables there is no evidence of a difference. While we find that Millennials are altering life-choices that affect vehicle ownership, the net effect of these endogenous choices is to reduce vehicle ownership by less than one percent. 

“These results underline the important of policy in addressing climate change,” says Knittel. “The low vehicle ownership statistics we’ve been quietly hoping will solve climate change are an artifact of the economic conditions and general life cycles Millennials have faced and do not represent some fundamental difference in their demand for cars.”

Despite the fact that many Millennials report that they prioritize environmentally friendly products, the so-called “Green Generation” does not exhibit significantly different preferences when it comes to transport. This does not inherently mean Millennials do not consider the environment in their auto-buying decisions, but for many Millennials having a vehicle may not be a choice. 

All Hail the Driverless Car!

Aurora CEO Chris Urmson and SAFE Autuomous Vehicles VP Amitai Bin-Nun won a recent Intelligence Squared U.S. debate on the motion “All Hail the Driverless Car!” by convincing more of the live NYC audience that a self-driving future would lead to fewer accidents, less traffic congestion and carbon emissions, and greater accessibility.

Their opponents, arguing that driverless cars might never be truly safe or affordable to anyone beyond the wealthy, were NYU data journalism professor Meredith Broussard and MIT transportation researcher Ashley Nunes.

Hear the complete debate as a podcast now here (or on all podcasting platforms under “Intelligence Squared U.S.”): http://www.intelligencesquaredus.org/debates/all-hail-driverless-car

Read selections from all four debaters’ remarks in the new issue of Automotive News: http://www.autonews.com/debate-all-hail-driverless-car