Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Abstract:
We study the health, behavioral, and economic effects of one of the most politically controversial policies in recent memory, shelter-in-place orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. Previous studies have claimed that shelter-in-place orders saved thousands of lives, but we reassess these analyses and show that they are not reliable. We find that shelter-in-place orders had no detectable health benefits, only modest effects on behavior, and small but adverse effects on the economy. To be clear, our study should not be interpreted as evidence that social distancing behaviors are not effective. Many people had already changed their behaviors before the introduction of shelter-in-place orders, and shelter-in-place orders appear to have been ineffective precisely because they did not meaningfully alter social distancing behavior.