A group of researchers is saying what a lot of people in Wisconsin have stated for weeks: Ending Gov. Tony Evers’ Safer at Home order early did not lead to a spike in coronavirus cases.
The new study, titled Did the Wisconsin Supreme Court Restart a COVID-19 Epidemic?, looks at the numbers from May 3 through May 24 to see if more people were hospitalized because of the virus during that time period. The study was conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization based in Cambridge, Mass.
Not only did the five researchers working on the study find no spike in coronavirus cases, the team found only a tiny spike in the number of people who changed their behavior once the order was lifted.
“Our findings thus far indicate that the overturning of the statewide shelter-in-place order in Wisconsin did not effectively lead residents to spend more time outside their homes, except perhaps in the very immediate term following the repeal,” the study states. “Given the integral role played by person-to-person contact in the infection transmission mechanism, if the lifting of the statewide order did not lead to any substantial or sustained first-order effects in increasing mobility outside one’s home, it would be unlikely that there would be strong effects on COVID-19 cases and deaths.”
Reports of packed Milwaukee bars made national headlines on the day that the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the governor’s order. But researchers said most people appeared to take a cautious approach to heading back out after that.
The team notes that even in densely packed urban areas such as Milwaukee, the trend continued.
The researchers also looked at the politics of the Safer at Home order.
“We find some evidence that counties, in which the majority of voters voted for Trump, experienced somewhat larger declines in stay-at-home behaviors (time spent at home) relative to counties in which the share of votes for Trump was below 50 percent,” the study noted. “This is consistent with research indicating that individuals residing in counties with a higher share of Trump voters are less likely to engage efforts in searching for information on the coronavirus and follow social distancing guidelines.”
The study suggests that as other states grapple with their coronavirus response, or with their response to the next wave, they should study Wisconsin.
“The laboratory provided by Wisconsin is perhaps the best opportunity to-date to credibly study the effects of lifting a [stay at home order],” the team wrote.
The conclusion the team comes to is not going to be surprising to many people in Wisconsin.
“We do not find any discernible or substantial increase in COVID-19 cases or acceleration in the growth of cases due to the Wisconsin Legislature v. Palm decision,” the study states. “This is due at least in part to the lack of large change in social distancing behavior, and may also be explained by individuals successfully engaging in avoidance behaviors on other margins (such as maintaining 6 foot distances from others when out in public or wearing masks). These findings cast doubt on the assertion that reopening states by lifting [stay at home orders] will necessarily cause substantial erosion in the containment of the virus.”
The Center Square – Benjamin Yount