What a difference a few years make. In 2020, the mainstream media lauded Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his strong but compassionate COVID-19 leadership. He won a special Emmy for his “masterful” press briefings and a book contract from a major publisher to discuss his “leadership lessons.” Celebrities declared themselves “Cuomosexuals.”
Cuomo was admired for his willingness to impose lockdown measures, like closing businesses and schools, that though painful would purportedly protect society in the long run. He criticized leaders of Florida and other states who were reopening their economies in late spring 2020 for ignoring science. “You played politics with this virus, and you lost,” he intoned.
Well, actually not.
A new study I coauthored with colleagues at the Paragon Health Institute confirms what many long suspected: States like New York that forced severe, prolonged lockdowns did not significantly improve health outcomes compared with less restrictive states — and had much worse economic and education outcomes. States like Florida that ignored the pseudo-science promoted by Cuomo and multiple federal officials did far better.
We took advantage of the fact that in our constitutional system of government, public-health decisions are generally reserved to the states. The different approaches each state took in deciding which measures to impose and for how long created an opportunity to compare divergent strategies’ outcomes.
Paragon’s study compared Oxford University’s index of government responses to COVID-19 in different states — including but not limited to closing schools and businesses, canceling public events, stay-at-home orders and masking policies — to health, economic and education outcomes.
We measured health outcomes by COVID deaths and all-cause excess mortality. COVID mortality is strongly associated with advancing age and certain pre-existing conditions, such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension. So to compare one state to another, one must account for, as an example, what share of each state’s population is of advanced age. We therefore adjusted states’ COVID mortality for age distribution and prevalence of obesity and diabetes.
Our finding: States with more severe government interventions did not have better health outcomes than less restrictive states.
But imposing more severe lockdowns 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.
The study also revealed people voted with their feet in response to lockdown measures’ severity. Census data on domestic migration (reported from July 1 of one year to June 30 of the next) show 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. We found a significant correlation between states’ degree of lockdowns and out-migration, suggesting people fled states with more severe restrictions for states with less severe measures.
No state better illustrates the study’s findings than New York. The Empire State had the highest score on the Oxford index (most severe lockdowns) of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. But it was among the worst scorers in health, economic and education outcomes: 47 out of 51 for health, 48 for economic and 31 for education outcomes.
New York’s already-significant out-migration surged during the pandemic. An average of 181,938 people left New York each pre-pandemic year. But the loss nearly doubled to 352,185 people in 2021. Over the two pandemic years, New York lost 651,742 residents, 3.2% of its July 1, 2020, population.
Read the full article on the New York Post.