Are We #StayingHome to Flatten the Curve?

Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, first version April 5, 2020. Revised May, 2020. CUDARE Working Papers.

52 Pages Posted: 14 Apr 2020 Last revised: 6 Aug 2020

See all articles by James Sears

James Sears

University of California, Berkeley - Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics

J. Miguel Villas-Boas

University of California, Berkeley

Vasco Villas-Boas

University of California, Berkeley - Department of Economics

Sofia Berto Villas-Boas

University of California, Berkeley - Agricultural & Resource Economics

Date Written: May 25, 2020

Abstract

The recent spread of COVID-19 across the U.S. led to concerted efforts by states to "flatten the curve" through the adoption of stay-at-home mandates that encourage individuals to reduce travel and maintain social distance. Combining data on changes in travel activity with COVID-19 health outcomes and state policy adoption timing, we characterize nationwide changes in mobility patterns and isolate the portion attributable to statewide mandates. We find evidence of dramatic nationwide declines in mobility prior to adoption of any statewide mandates. Once states adopt a mandate, we estimate further mandate-induced declines between 2.1 and 7.0 percentage points across methods that account for states' differences in travel behavior prior to policy adoption. In addition, we investigate the effects of stay-at-home mandates on changes in COVID-19 health outcomes while controlling for pre-trends and observed pre-treatment mobility patterns. We estimate mandate-induced declines between 0.13 and 0.17 in deaths (5.6 to 6.0 in hospitalizations) per 100 thousand across methods. Across 43 adopting states, this represents 23,366-30,144 fewer deaths (and roughly one million averted hospitalizations) for the months of March and April - which indicates that death rates could have been 42-54% higher had states not adopted statewide policies. We further find evidence that changes in mobility patterns prior to adoption of statewide policies also played a role in reducing COVID-19 mortality and morbidity. Adding in averted deaths due to pre-mandate social distancing behavior, we estimate a total of 48-71,000 averted deaths from COVID-19 for the two-month period. Given that the actual COVID-19 death toll for March and April was 55,922, our estimates suggest that deaths would have been 1.86-2.27 times what they were absent any stay-at-home mandates during this period. These estimates represent a lower bound on the health impacts of stay-at-home policies, as they do not account for spillovers or undercounting of COVID-19 mortality. Our findings indicate that early behavior changes and later statewide policies reduced death rates and helped attenuate the negative consequences of COVID-19. Further, our findings of substantial reductions in mobility prior to state-level policies convey important policy implications for re-opening.

Keywords: coronavirus, COVID-19, stay-at-home, flatten the curve, policy impact

Suggested Citation

Sears, James and Villas-Boas, J. Miguel and Villas-Boas, Vasco and Villas-Boas, Sofia, Are We #StayingHome to Flatten the Curve? (May 25, 2020). Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, first version April 5, 2020. Revised May, 2020. CUDARE Working Papers. , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3569791 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3569791

James Sears

University of California, Berkeley - Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics ( email )

Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

J. Miguel Villas-Boas

University of California, Berkeley ( email )

Haas School of Business
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States
510-642-1250 (Phone)
510-643-1420 (Fax)

Vasco Villas-Boas

University of California, Berkeley - Department of Economics

579 Evans Hall
Berkeley, CA 94709
United States

Sofia Villas-Boas (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - Agricultural & Resource Economics ( email )

310 Giannini Hall # 3310
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States
510-643-6359 (Phone)
510-643-8911 (Fax)

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