UAB study: Without stay-at-home orders, COVID cases could have been 220% higher

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Published: Oct. 23, 2020 at 11:52 AM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - UAB researchers said they found without stay-at-home orders, the United States could have seen 220 percent higher rates of COVID-19 infection and a 22 percent higher fatality rate.

The study published Friday in JAMA Network Open, analyzed daily state-level positive case rates against the presence or absence of statewide stay-at-home orders.

The team looked at the time period of March 1 to May 4, 2020.

“During March and April, most states in the United States imposed shutdowns and enacted SAHOs in an effort to control the disease,” said senior author Bisakha Sen, Ph.D., Blue Cross Blue Shield Endowed Chair in Health Economics, Department of Health Care Organization and Policy in the School of Public Health. “However, mixed messages from political authorities on the usefulness of SAHOs, popular pressure and concerns about the economic fallout led some states to lift the restrictions before public health experts considered it advisable.”

Sen’s team used data collected from the COVID Tracking Project, which was initiated by the magazine The Atlantic in partnership with Related Sciences. The project collates data from state health agencies and makes it publicly available.

Stay-at-home orders were considered to be in effect when a state’s governor issued an order for residents of the entire state to leave home only for essential activities, and when schools and nonessential businesses were closed.

Seven states never imposed them, and 12 states lifted theirs before the May 4 study cut off.

A second aim of the study was to see if the proportion of African Americans in a state was associated with the number of positive cases of COVID-19 in that state.

“Previous attempts to understand the extent of COVID-19 cases within the African American population had been done at a county level,” said co-first author Vidya Sagar Hanumanthu, Department of Health Services Administration. “Our state-level analysis showed that there was an association between the African American population and COVID-19 cases statewide. This finding adds to evidence from existing studies using county-level data on racial disparities in COVID-19 infection rates and underlines the urgency of better understanding and addressing these disparities.”

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