The COVID-19 pandemic elicited unprecedented government interventions into American life. Yet, the stringency and duration of government measures varied considerably across the U.S.
A new Paragon Health Institute study we coauthored confirms what many long suspected: more severe lockdowns did not significantly improve health outcomes but led to much worse economic and education outcomes. States that eschewed federal proclamations tended to do far better than states that adopted severe measures, like closing businesses and schools.
Under our constitutional system of government, public health decisions are generally reserved to the states. The different approaches each state took to deciding which measures to impose and for how long created a natural experiment.
We compared a quantitative index created by Oxford University of government measures taken to combat COVID-19 – including workplace and school closures, public event cancellations, stay-at-home requirements, and masking policies – to health, economic and educational outcomes across states. States with more severe government interventions did not have better health outcomes, as measured by COVID deaths (adjusted for age and pre-existing conditions) and all-cause excess mortality than less restrictive states.
States with more stringent lockdowns, though, had much worse economic outcomes (increased unemployment and decreased GDP) and much worse education outcomes (less in-person schooling). Other studies show severe learning deficits associated with the loss of in-person education, and that the economic and educational impacts of lockdowns disproportionately affected lower-income families.
The severity of government pandemic measures also influenced people’s decisions about where to live. Census data on domestic migration revealed that annual average movement between states increased 44% in the pandemic period (July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2022) compared with the five-year pre-pandemic average.
A significant correlation between states’ degree of lockdowns and out-migration, suggests that people voted with their feet, leaving states with more severe restrictions and moving to states with less severe measures
States’ COVID response performances were starkly illustrated by comparing the divergent approaches of two of the nation’s largest states – California and Florida. California imposed severe and prolonged lockdowns. Florida relaxed general lockdowns after a short time and focused protection measures on the vulnerable elderly. These policies were noteworthy since COVID infection mortality rates were known to be much higher for the elderly. Florida has one of the oldest populations and California one of the youngest.
Read the full article on Fox News.