The economic costs of social distancing to prevent the spread of Covid-19 are increasingly evident, but a pair of academics from the University of Chicago have found the practice also generates significant economic benefits.

A new paper estimates that social distancing will produce at least US$8 trillion worth of life-saving benefit in the U.S. alone.

In particular, the authors found that, based on a widely-accepted simulation of Covid-19 spread, “moderate social distancing” in the U.S. would save 1.7 million lives between March 1 and Oct. 1, compared with taking no action at all.

Of these avoided deaths, the researchers found that 630,000 would be saved by hospital intensive care units (ICUs) not being overwhelmed.

Combining the estimated lives saved with a common economic tool known as the “value of a statistical life” (VSL), the researchers find that the “mortality benefits of social distancing are over US$8 trillion or US$60,000 per U.S. household.”

This represents over one-third of U.S. GDP and is larger than the entire annual federal budget, it noted.

And, the researchers suggest that the US$8 trillion number is likely an underestimate of social distancing’s benefits because it doesn’t account for other benefits that the practice generates, apart from saving lives.

For instance, the paper said the estimates “do not account for social distancing’s impact on reducing uncertainty about mortality impacts, the potential for reducing morbidity rates, and improving quality of medical care for non-Covid-19 medical problems.”

Read the full paper here.