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Causal impact of masks, policies, behavior on early COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S.

Authors: Victor Chernozhukov , Hiroyuki Kasahara and Paul Schrimpf
Date: 28 May 2020
Type: cemmap Working Paper, CWP24/20
DOI: 10.1920/wp.cem.2020.2420

Abstract

This paper evaluates the dynamic impact of various policies, such as school, business, and restaurant closures, adopted by the US states on the growth rates of confirmed Covid-19 cases and social distancing behavior measured by Google Mobility Reports, where we take into consideration of people’s voluntarily behavioral response to new information of transmission risks. Using the US state-level data, our analysis finds that both policies and information on transmission risks are important determinants of people’s social distancing behavior, and shows that a change in policies explains a large fraction of observed changes in social distancing behavior. Our counterfactual experiments indicate that removing all policies on April 1st of 2020 would have lead to 30 to 200 times more additional cases by late May. Removing only the non-essential businesses closures (while maintaining restrictions on movie theaters and restaurants) would have increased the weekly growth rate of cases between -0.02 and 0.06 and would have lead to -10% to 40% more cases by late May. Finally, nationally mandating face masks for employees on April 1st would have reduced the case growth rate by 0.1-0.25. This leads to 30% to 57% fewer reported cases by late May, which translates into, roughly, 30-57 thousand saved lives.

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