Many politicians, public-health figures, and media pundits continue to insist that the Covid lockdowns were a success and represent a blueprint for future pandemic responses. Illinois governor J. B. Pritzker recently claimed that “thousands and thousands of more people would have died in Illinois if we had followed the lead of a state like Florida.” Pritzker was echoing California governor Gavin Newsom’s assertion that an 56,000 additional Californians would have died had he followed Florida’s Covid policies. Newsom even claimed that “‘lockdown’ states like California did better economically than ‘looser’ states like Florida.”
The data tell a different story. We recently co-authored a study with colleagues at the Paragon Health Institute showing that states such as Illinois and California that imposed lockdown measures, such as closing business and schools, did not significantly improve health outcomes but had much worse economic and educational outcomes. States such as Florida that rejected lockdowns did much better.
Under our constitution, public-health decisions are generally reserved for the states. This created an opportunity for researchers to compare the different approaches across the states and see how these impacted health, economic, and educational outcomes.
We used an index of government pandemic-response measures — including but not limited to closing schools and businesses, canceling public events, stay-at-home orders, and masking policies — that was created and maintained by the Oxford University School of Government. We then compared states’ index scores with states’ health outcomes, measured by Covid deaths and all-cause excess-mortality rates. Since Covid mortality is strongly associated with older age and preexisting health conditions, we adjusted states’ Covid mortality for age distribution and prevalence of obesity and diabetes.
Government interventions had little or no impact on health outcomes, but lockdown measures led to much worse economic outcomes — increased unemployment and decreased gross domestic product — and much worse education outcomes — less in-person schooling, which studies show leads to decreased test scores and long-term, possibly permanent, educational and economic disadvantages. And multiple studies have found that the negative economic and educational impacts of lockdowns disproportionately affected lower-income families.
We also found that people voted with their feet in response to lockdown measures. Census data on domestic migration show that annual average movement between states between July 2020 and June 2022 increased 44 percent compared with the five-year pre-pandemic average (July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2019). There was a significant correlation between states’ degree of lockdowns and out-migration, suggesting that people fled states with more-severe restrictions for states with less-severe measures.
Illinois, California, and Florida represent the full spectrum of state governments’ Covid responses and neatly illustrate our findings.
Illinois’s Oxford government response index score was average among all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Florida, which relaxed general lockdowns after a short time and focused protection measures on the vulnerable and the elderly, had one of the nation’s lowest Oxford-index scores (which reflected one of the lowest-severity lockdown measures). California imposed severe and lengthy lockdowns, leading to the third-highest Oxford-index score.
Yet, all three states had roughly equal age- and disease-adjusted health-outcomes scores, suggesting that there was no substantial health benefit to more-severe lockdowns. Florida, however, easily surpassed California and Illinois in educational and economic outcomes.
Florida had the third-highest number of in-person school days in the nation. California had the lowest, and Illinois’s was almost as low (43rd among the 50 states and D.C.). Florida was well above average in economic outcomes (13th best), while California and Illinois scored 40th and 47th, respectively.
Migration patterns reflect what the three states’ residents thought of their governors’ policies. Florida, which had consistently large migration inflows before the pandemic (an annual average of 169,569 new residents between July 2015 and June 2019) saw a 59 percent jump in in-migration during the pandemic years. California and Illinois had large pre-pandemic out-migration rates (139,710 and 110,893 annually, on average, over the same period), which increased 163 percent and 19 percent, respectively, during the pandemic.
Pritzker and Newsom, along with other Democratic governors such as New York’s Andrew Cuomo, their allies in the press, and the public-health establishment, have consistently vilified Florida and its governor, Ron DeSantis. But as John Adams observed, “facts are stubborn things.” The evidence indicates that when the next pandemic comes, Americans would be well advised to follow leaders like Governor DeSantis, who insisted that there is no virtue in self-imposed economic, educational, and social costs that do not yield clear health dividends.
Read the full piece at National Review.