Covid Lockdowns Did Not Improve Outcomes: Lessons from Florida and California

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My Competitive Enterprise Institute colleague Dr. Joel Zinberg is the co-author of a new report, published by the Paragon Health Institute titled “Freedom Wins: States with Less Restrictive COVID Policies Outperformed States with More Restrictive COVID Policies.” This is the latest research in the ongoing debate over whether various states over- or under-reacted to the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic. With more evidence coming out recently on the learning loss of students who were unable to attend school in person and the lack of impact that mask mandates had, this is very timely work. Here’s the description of the work Joel and his co-authors have done:

The study compared a quantitative measure of state government response measures developed by Oxford University to health, economic, and educational outcome measures in all 50 states and the District of Columbia…. Oxford’s index measured government interventions including mandatory, state-enforced closures of businesses, schools, and recreational and religious facilities; restrictions on public gatherings; stay-in-place orders; and masking and social distancing requirements. The study also compared the Oxford index to changes in state-to-state migration patterns.

After synthesizing all of that data, the authors came to a couple of important conclusions. First, states with severe government interventions did not significantly improve health outcomes compared to states with more restrained approaches. This may be partly because government interventions appear to have actually increased excess mortality from non-Covid health conditions, while they were trying to fight Covid itself. Second, severe government interventions were strongly correlated with worse economic and educational outcomes. The economic and education damage was most severe for lower-income families and children.

Census data also shows that domestic migration – people moving within the U.S. between states – increased substantially during the pandemic compared to the five years before it started. When the authors looked at the people who moved from one state to another, they found that severe government interventions were strongly correlated with net out migration from states, suggesting that people fled places with severe lockdowns and moved to states with more reasonable measures.

The paper also features a case study comparing California and Florida, with the Golden State being the poster child for severe government measures and the Sunshine State the example of a more moderate approach. Looking at all of the relevant data, Florida’s outcomes were far superior to California’s. California and Florida had similar health outcomes, suggesting that California’s lockdowns didn’t actually keep people from getting sick, but California suffered far worse economic and education outcomes. As with the nationwide trend, California saw a jump in its already high out-migration, while Florida experienced a significant in-migration increase during the pandemic. The authors also note that Florida’s Covid policy was similar to Sweden’s approach of avoiding lockdowns, keeping schools open, and relying on individuals to make their own decisions. The paper also discusses how well Sweden and Florida fared relative to other countries and states.

The authors of the “Freedom Wins” study are Competitive Enterprise Institute Senior Fellow Dr. Joel Zinberg, Paragon Health Institute President Brian Blase, Stanford University Medical School professor Dr. Eric Sun, and University of Chicago economics professor Casey Mulligan. You can find the full paper at

We also covered this topic in Episode 9 of the Free the Economy podcast. The public health segment starts around 3:18.