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Are We #StayingHome to Flatten the Curve?

  • Author(s): Villas-Boas, Sofia B
  • Sears, James
  • Villas-Boas, Miguel
  • Villas-Boas, Vasco
  • et al.
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 and indeed using data on travel activity we find that residents start reducing mobility early in most states. Combining data on changes in travel activity with COVID-19 health outcomes and variation in state policy adoption, we characterize the direct impact of stay-at-home mandates on mobility and social distancing and link these behavioral changes to health benefits. We find evidence of dramatic declines in mobility nationwide prior to the adoption of statewide mandates. Despite these early reductions, we find that statewide stay-at-home policies induced "mandate effects" of between 4.1 and 5.9 percentage point declines relative to pre-COVID-19 levels for the first four states to introduce such policies. These effects persist when considering all states' mandates and alternate estimation strategies that account for states' differences in travel behavior prior to policy adoption. Using previous changes in mobility, we find significant effects on current mortality, with 1% reductions in visits to non-essential businesses weeks prior being associated with 9.2 fewer deaths per 100 million per day, corresponding with over 74,000 lives saved nationwide and resulting economic benefits between $249-$745 billion for observed behavioral changes in March and April. Observed reductions in mobility indeed contribute to flattening the curve and reduce the strain on the medical system during those two months. Our findings provide evidence that statewide stay-at-home ordinances induce additional social distancing, and ultimately attenuate the negative health consequences of COVID-19, revealing themselves as important policy tools in the fight against pandemic. Further, substantial reductions in mobility prior to state-level policies convey important policy implications.

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