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The Immediate Effect of COVID-19 Policies on Social Distancing Behavior in the United States

By Rahi Abouk, Babak Heydari

Posted 10 Apr 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.04.07.20057356

Anecdotal evidence points to the effectiveness of COVID-19 social distancing policies, however, their effectiveness vis-a-vis what is driven by public awareness and voluntary actions have not been studied. Policy variations across US states create a natural experiment to study the causal impact of each policy. Using a difference-in-differences methodology, location-based mobility, and daily state-level data on COVID-19 tests and confirmed cases, we rank policies based on their effectiveness. We show that statewide stay-at-home orders had the strongest causal impact on reducing social interactions. In contrast, most of the expected impact of more lenient policies were already reaped from non-policy mechanisms. Moreover, stay-at-home policy results in a steady decline in confirmed cases, starting from ten days after implementation and reaching a 37% decrease after fifteen days, consistent with the testing practices and incubation period of the disease.

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