Strong Social Distancing Measures In The United States Reduced The COVID-19 Growth Rate
Courtemanche C, Garuccio J, Le A, Pinkston J, Yelowitz A. Strong Social Distancing Measures In The United States Reduced The COVID-19 Growth Rate [published online ahead of print, 2020 May 14]. Health Aff (Millwood). 2020;101377hlthaff202000608. doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2020.00608
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State and local governments imposed social distancing measures in March and April of 2020 to contain the spread of novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). These included large event bans, school closures, closures of entertainment venues, gyms, bars, and restaurant dining areas, and shelter-in-place orders (SIPOs). We evaluated the impact of these measures on the growth rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases across US counties between March 1, 2020 and April 27, 2020. An event-study design allowed each policy’s impact on COVID-19 case growth to evolve over time. Adoption of government-imposed social distancing measures reduced the daily growth rate by 5.4 percentage points after 1–5 days, 6.8 after 6–10 days, 8.2 after 11–15 days, and 9.1 after 16–20 days. Holding the amount of voluntary social distancing constant, these results imply 10 times greater spread by April 27 without SIPOs (10 million cases) and more than 35 times greater spread without any of the four measures (35 million). Our paper illustrates the potential danger of exponential spread in the absence of interventions, providing relevant information to strategies for restarting economic activity.
Both SIPOs and closures of restaurants/bars/entertainment-related businesses substantially slowed the spread of COVID-19. We did not find evidence that bans on large events and closures of public schools also did, though the confidence intervals cannot rule out moderately sized effects. Interestingly, two recent papers on the effect of social distancing restrictions on mobility found the same pattern as we did in terms of which restrictions mattered and which ones did not, suggesting that null effects of gathering bans and school closures on case growth are at least plausible.