Study: States slow to issue lockdown orders had higher COVID-19 death rates

PHILADELPHIA — When COVID-19 first emerged as a national crisis in March, numerous state and local governments put stay-at-home or lockdown orders in place. Conversely, many others held off on mandating that locals stay home. Now, a new study from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania finds states that were slow to issue lockdown orders subsequently experienced higher COVID-19 death rates.

This is one of the first studies to focus on the efficiency of early U.S. lockdown measures. Its findings certainly suggest that stay-at-home orders were the right move.

More than 55,000 coronavirus deaths across 37 U.S. states were analyzed for this project. All of those deaths took place between January 21st, 2020 and April 29th, 2020. Specifically, the association between school closures/emergency announcements and 28-day mortality rates was examined.

Each day matters in COVID-19 death rate

The results are striking. For every additional day a state dragged its feet on issuing a stay-at-home order, there was 5-6% increase in locals’ mortality risk. The research team even opted to remove New York & New Jersey from their analysis at one point, due to the high level of cases in that area at the time. Even then, their findings still held true.


“Before this study, we assumed social distancing worked based on modeling and studies of prior pandemics, but we didn’t have substantial quantitative data to show its effectiveness for COVID-19,” says Dr. Nadir Yehya, lead author and an assistant professor in the Division of Critical Care Medicine at CHOP and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, in a release. “Our analyses demonstrate that states that issued emergency declarations earlier helped curb the spread of the disease. These results confirm how important it is to implement social distancing measures early to reduce COVID-19 deaths.”

The research team adjusted for many potentially influential factors, such as population density, age, and demographics. But, they weren’t able to account for everything. For example, the possible influence of outbreaks in long-term care facilities was not considered. This study also doesn’t examine singular behavior or lockdown habits among individuals. Similarly, it doesn’t investigate the effect of each lockdown order’s duration on mortality rate outcomes.

“The implementation of social distancing measures is fundamentally political, as the process is decided upon by elected officials,” Dr. Yehya concludes. “Real-time, scientific evidence of the efficacy of these measures will be helpful for informing future policy decisions.”

The study is published in Clinical Infectious Diseases. 

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