WASHINGTON – The stability of the federal government and its large role in the state’s economy would protect Maryland from the worst economic effects of a pandemic flu, according to a report released Thursday as part of the U.S. Pandemic Preparedness Initiative.
Maryland’s economy ranked first out of 50 for the least-affected gross domestic product in the event of a possible outbreak over a one year period.
Even though it’s No. 1, Maryland could still lose $12.5 billion or 5.09 percent of its GDP, which isn’t quite as bad as Nevada, ranked last, which could lose up to 8.08 percent of its GDP.
The rankings are based on the prevalence of 20 industries within each state’s economy and the predictions by economists on how those industries would fare.
“Maryland and Virginia, for example, have greater-than-average exposure to government…as well as in real estate,” said Misha Segal, lead author of the report, so “they do not face as large an impact on a percentage basis.”
The analysis assumes that spending in the government and real estate industries will continue despite the pandemic, Segal said, “the government would continue to pay their employees, and as we’ve seen in other crises, the government ramps up its spending.”
The two sectors made up 32 percent of Maryland’s GDP in 2005 totaling just over $79 billion according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Nevada, however, relies mainly on travel and tourism, industries that can’t make up losses sustained when sick, would-be tourists and their families stay home for an estimated average of three weeks.
The last three pandemics occurred in 1918, 1957 and 1968, which, Segal said, leads many experts to predict the country is long overdue for another one.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the timing of pandemics cannot be predicted, although growing population and urbanization, along with increased international travel, may allow an otherwise contained outbreak to spread more easily to a pandemic level.
The study did more than just profess the dire, however. It recommended actions community and governmental groups should take toward preventing losses, including improved sick leave policies, infection control in the work place, contingency plans to maintain the delivery of goods and services, and improved communication within the work force.
In September 2006 then-Gov. Robert Ehrlich authorized the Pandemic Influenza Coordinating Committee, although planning for a possible outbreak has been underway since 1999.
“Although Maryland has made a solid start, there is still more to accomplish to be ready to face what might be the worst public health emergency threatening our nation?s homeland security,” said Department of Health and Mental Hygiene spokeswoman Karen Black in a statement released Thursday.
Jeff Levi, the executive director of the Trust for America’s Health, the nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that released the report, said the group is in conversations with people on Capitol Hill about federal funding for an emergency health benefit to aid states in their pandemic preparedness.
“We’re going to work hard to make it happen soon,” Levi said, but they can’t promise anything. “We’re just grateful it hasn’t hit yet, because it gives us more time to prepare.”
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