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Economics professor Wagner's analysis aiding COVID-19 fight

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UL Lafayette’s Dr. Gary Wagner is a devoted economics professor. And a reluctant media star.

Wagner is the B.I. Moody III College of Business Administration’s Acadiana Business Economist/BORSF Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair in Economics. In addition to teaching, his primary role is to conduct research and analysis about regional economics that’s disseminated to the local business community.

Wagner’s research focus temporarily shifted after Louisiana’s first confirmed coronavirus case on March 9. He conducted analysis for the state that showed the growth rate of new infections in Louisiana was the fastest in the world during the first two weeks following that initial diagnosis. Gov. John Bel Edwards cited the data when issuing a stay-at-home order on March 22.

That’s when seeing his name in print and talking to reporters became part of his daily routine. Dozens of media outlets – including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the BBC, The Washington Post and CNN – began citing Wagner’s research and asking for quotes.

The findings have provided context for a range of stories related to the coronavirus. Among them: a profile about a 68-year-old man from New Orleans who survived Hurricane Katrina but not COVID-19; medical experts’ belief that Mardi Gras provided a giant incubator for the virus; nationwide shortages of medical supplies; and death toll projections.

An article that run Tuesday in The Economist newspaper published in London details the rapid speed with which the virus has climbed in southern states. The traction his research has received has surprised Wagner, and he’s glad the exposure continues to “grab people’s attention.”

He is, however, uneasy with depictions that portray him as anything other than an economist.

“I don’t feel like this is something I deserve recognition for. The numbers speak for themselves. I’m not comfortable with people saying I saved lives. I didn’t. I calculated growth rates,” he said.

Photo caption: Dr. Gary Wagner conducted analysis that showed the growth rate of new coronavirus infections in Louisiana was the fastest in the world during the first two weeks following the state’s initial diagnosis. Photo credit: Doug Dugas / University of Louisiana at Lafayette