Statewide Stay-at-Home Mandates Have the Strongest Impact on Social Distancing Behavior in the United States According to New Research by Professor Rahi Abouk

Rahi Abouk

Statewide stay-at-home mandates and non-essential business closures have had the strongest impact nationwide on reducing social interaction in the early stage of the COVID-19 outbreak according to a new study by William Paterson University health economics professor Rahi Abouk.

Abouk measured the impact of six social distancing policies. In order of effectiveness, they are:

  • Statewide stay-at-home order
  • More limited stay-at-home orders
  • Non-essential business closure
  • Large gathering ban
  • School-closure mandate
  • Restaurant/bar limits

The impact from more lenient state policies, such as banning large social gatherings, is already reaped from non-policy mechanisms such as voluntary actions and public awareness, say the researchers.

The study examines the various social distancing policies across different states in the U.S. to determine what has been most effective during the first stage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

 “Our results provide valuable information to policy makers in terms of which policies are more effective and which policies should not be adopted at the state level,” says Abouk. “For example, we show that stay-at-home orders that target specific people like the high-risk population or a few counties within the state are not going to be effective.”

The study was conducted using policy variations and the aggregate human mobility and location trends published by Google for the month of March 2020. The researchers used a quasi-experimental approach to measure the impact of six common policies on people’s presence at home and their mobility in different types of public places.

“The question we are addressing in this study is the first stage effect, which is how these policies influence individual behavior, and then eventually we will examine how those changes in behavior will effect health outcomes on COVID-19 positive test rates and death rates,” adds Abouk.

Abouk is an associate professor in the University’s Cotsakos College of Business, Department of Economics, Finance and Global Business. Babak Heydari, associate professor, Northeastern University, College of Engineering, School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, is coauthor on the paper.