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The Latest: ‘COVID-19 baby bust’ could lead to half a million fewer (U.S.) births next year

In a new report, economists writing for the Brookings Institution estimate that the United States could see “on the order of 300,000 to 500,000 fewer births next year” as a result of the economic recession triggered by the novel coronavirus.

The economists, Melissa S. Kearney and Phillip Levine, derive their estimates from data on birth rates during the Great Recession and the 1918 flu pandemic. Both of those upheavals had a considerable negative impact on fertility.

During the Great Recession, for instance, states that experienced steeper job losses tended to see more dramatic reductions in their birth rates between 2008 and 2011. Looking at the country as a whole, they found that “in 2007, the birth rate was 69.1 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44; in 2012, the rate was 63.0 births per 1,000 women.” That works out to a 9%drop, or roughly 400,000 fewer births.

A pregnant woman waits in line for groceries with hundreds of others in need due to the COVID-19 virus outbreak in Waltham, Mass. in May. Associated Press/Charles Krupa

The reason? Children are expensive, and having a child is in many ways a financial decision. The loss of a job or otherwise uncertain prospects for a steady income lead many would-be parents to postpone having kids until things are more settled. In economic jargon, birth rates are “procyclical” – they tend to rise during times of economic growth and fall during recessions.

Birth rates also track pandemics, as the fertility data from the time of the 1918 pandemic show. Crucially, in the wake of the 1918 pandemic, American mothers didn’t “make up” for the previous decline in fertility by having more kids. Rather, the pandemic left a permanent mark on American families, with many having fewer children than they would have otherwise, leaving tens of thousands of future American citizens permanently unborn.

What does all that mean for the current crisis, which involves not just a pandemic or an economic collapse, but both simultaneously? Using the skyrocketing unemployment rate as a baseline and factoring in the additional effect of an ongoing public health crisis with no end in sight, Kearney and Levine estimate we’re in for a decline of anywhere from 300,000 to 500,000 births.

16 friends say they were infected with the virus after a night partying in a Florida bar

A night of partying on the weekend that bars in Florida reopened resulted in a group of 16 friends becoming infected with the novel coronavirus and regretting the decision to go out, they said.

On June 6, Erika Crisp and her friends visited a crowded Lynch’s Irish Pub in Jacksonville Beach to celebrate a friend’s birthday. The pub was packed with other celebrators who weren’t wearing masks, she told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on “Cuomo Prime Time” on Tuesday.

“At the time it was more out of sight out of mind. We hadn’t known anybody who had it personally. Governor, mayor, everybody says it’s fine,” she said, adding that her friends showed symptoms within days of the outing. “It was a mistake. I feel foolish. It’s too soon.”

Bartenders Holly Mackinder, left, and Jessica Dawkins, right, hold signs during a “Right to Work” rally in Fort Lauderdale on June 16. Across Florida, bars were part of the Phase 2 reopenings that occurred earlier in June, except in three counties in South Florida. Associated Press/Lynne Sladky

One of her friends from that night, Kat Layton, who lost her sense of smell, said she knew she and her friends “were pushing it” by being out that night. She warned viewers that the current state of the pandemic is not ready for such gatherings and that the coronavirus is still very much present.

About seven employees at the pub also tested positive for the virus after the owner had them tested out of precaution, CBS Miami reported. Those employees also worked the night Crisp, Layton and her friends went out, but the owner told the station he thinks a customer brought in the virus.

The bar closed for deep cleaning but reopened Tuesday night, WJXT reported. Other nightlife establishments in the area recently reclosed for cleaning after dozens of people claimed to be infected with the virus after going out.

Florida’s coronavirus cases have set new daily records over the past few days. More than 2,700 cases were reported Tuesday.

The novel coronavirus can be a killer — or no big deal. It can put a person in the intensive care unit on a ventilator, isolated from family, facing a lonely death — or it can come and go without leaving a mark, a ghost pathogen, more rumor than reality.

Six months into a pandemic that has killed more than 400,000 people globally, scientists are still trying to understand the wildly variable nature of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Among their lines of inquiry: Are distinct strains of the coronavirus more dangerous? Does a patient’s blood type affect the severity of the illness? Do other genetic factors play a role? Are some people partially protected from COVID-19 because they’ve had recent exposure to other coronaviruses?

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