We propose a flexible model of infectious dynamics with a single endogenous state variable and economic choices. We characterize equilibrium, optimal outcomes, static and dynamic externalities, and prove the following: (i) A lockdown generically is followed by policies to stimulate activity. (ii) Re-infection risk lowers the activity level chosen by the government early on and, for small static externalities, implies too cautious equilibrium steady-state activity. (iii) When a cure arrives deterministically, optimal policy is dis-continous, featuring a light/strict lockdown when the arrival date exceeds/falls short of a specific value. Calibrated to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic the baseline model and a battery of robustness checks and extensions imply (iv) lockdowns for 3-4 months, with activity reductions by 25-40 percent, and (v) substantial welfare gains from optimal policy unless the government lacks instruments to stimulate activity after a lockdown.
We contrast the canonical epidemiological SIR model due to Kermack and McKendrick (1927) with more tractable alternatives that offer similar degrees of “realism” and flexibility. We provide results connecting the different models which can be exploited for calibration purposes. We use the expected spread of COVID-19 in the United States to exemplify our results.