Researchers at MIT have published an extremely useful analysis: of the stores, services, and institutions to which we can now return, which are safest? Which offer the most “bang for the buck,” being worth the risk they impose?
Here is the paper, published in PNAS. The researchers looked at 26 activities / venues, from bars and restaurants to gyms, banks, and colleges, and for each derived two unrelated scores: how safe or dangerous they are from a Covid-infection perspective, and how valuable or essential their product or service is to the individual / shopper, to the economy, and to society.
Consider these recommendations alongside the assessments of epidemiologists, covered earlier. The MIT study is on the face of it more comprehensive, and therefore better equipped to guide public policy, because it considers benefits as well as risks.
|risk / benefit||activity|
(probably worth the risk)
Colleges & universities
(definitely not worth the risk)
|Cafes, juice bars, dessert parlors
Liquor & tobacco stores
Sporting goods stores
|do online if possible
(higher risk but also essential)
|Auto dealers & repair
Fast food & sit-down restaurants
Grocery, general merchandise, electronics, clothing, shoe stores
Places of worship
(mid-level risk vs. benefits)
|Salons & barbers
Hardware, furniture, office supply, department stores
(low risk but less essential; or available online)
Here are two points I found interesting in the MIT paper. First, they re-ran their analysis for urban vs. non-metropolitan locations, and found “remarkably similar results, suggesting that the urban-rural divide is not an important dimension for policy makers.”
Second, they looked at how people actually had behaved in the spring with regard to the classes of organizations and venues in their analysis. They found a good correlation with their recommendations, for the most part. “This suggests that at least some of the cost-benefit analysis we measure is being internalized by US consumers, businesses, and policy makers.”