The effect of stay-at-home orders on COVID-19 infections in the United States

04/13/2020
by   James H. Fowler, et al.
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In March and April 2020, public health authorities in the United States acted to mitigate transmission of COVID-19. These actions were not coordinated at the national level, which creates an opportunity to use spatial and temporal variation to measure their effect with greater accuracy. We combine publicly available data sources on the timing of stay-at-home orders and daily confirmed COVID-19 cases at the county level in the United States (N = 132,048). We then derive from the classic SIR model a two-way fixed-effects model and apply it to the data with controls for unmeasured differences between counties and over time. Mean county-level daily growth in COVID-19 infections peaked at 17.2 just before stay-at-home orders were issued. Two way fixed-effects regression estimates suggest that orders were associated with a 3.8 percentage point (95 CI 0.7 to 8.6) reduction in the growth rate after one week and an 8.6 percentage point (3.0 to 14.1) reduction after two weeks. By day 22 the reduction (18.2 percentage points, 12.3 to 24.0) had surpassed the growth at the peak, indicating that growth had turned negative and the number of new daily infections was beginning to decline. A hypothetical national stay-at-home order issued on March 13, 2020 when a national emergency was declared might have reduced cumulative county infections by 62.3 reverse exponential growth in the disease by April 5. The results here suggest that a coordinated nationwide stay-at-home order may have reduced by hundreds of thousands the current number of infections and by thousands the total number of deaths from COVID-19. Future efforts in the United States and elsewhere to control pandemics should coordinate stay-at-home orders at the national level, especially for diseases for which local spread has already occurred and testing availability is delayed.

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