Mario Crucini, Oscar O’Flaherty, 29 May 2021

Throughout much of 2020, the Trump administration deferred decision making regarding stay-at-home orders to the state and local level. The data-driven analysis in this column suggests that a national stay-at-home order at the onset of the pandemic, when the virus was spreading primarily in a small group of cities, may have imposed earlier and deeper economic costs on states with relatively low case numbers without any corresponding reduction in infection rates in such states. But as the virus spread more uniformly across the country in the last several months of 2020, a nationwide order seemed more appropriate. The findings demonstrate the value of public policy discretion at the state and local level when it comes to implementing stay-at-home orders with the simultaneous and competing goals of minimising community spread and business dislocation. 

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