(The Center Square) – A new study is shedding light on the outcomes of states that placed restrictions on residents and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Paragon Health Institute compared the degree of state government response measures developed by Oxford University to health, economic and educational outcome measures in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The index measured government interventions including state-enforced closures of businesses, schools, and other recreational facilities; restrictions on public gatherings; and masking and social distancing requirements.
Co-author and American Well-being Initiative Director Dr. Joel Zinberg said states with fewer restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic outperformed states like Illinois that implemented more restrictions.
“The important finding of our study is that states that imposed more severe lockdown measures did not do any better than states that were less restrictive in terms of health, and they did much worse in terms of economic and educational outcomes,” Zinberg said.
The study showed severe government interventions strongly correlated with worse economic outcomes, with increased unemployment and decreased GDP, and also worse educational outcomes with fewer days of in-person schooling.
In March 2020, Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued stay-at-home orders that lasted for months. In May, in the face of increasing disregard of the restrictions, some states loosened restrictions while Illinois stayed completely shut down.
The governor’s office even increased the penalty for businesses that violated the orders and reopened.
Zinberg said Illinois’ restrictions resulted in average health outcomes for residents, comparable to Florida which instituted few restrictions on residents. He added the restrictions most likely exacerbated the state’s outmigration as people voted with their feet and fled states with severe restrictions.
“There was a significant correlation between a state’s degree of lockdown and outmigration,” Zinberg said. “In other words, people were fleeing with more severe restrictions to states with less severe restrictions.”
Illinois has seen its population decline for nine consecutive years, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Between July 1, 2021, and July 1, 2022, the state lost 110,127 on net.
Paragon recommended that in future pandemics, policymakers should avoid prolonged, and generalized restrictions and instead carefully tailor government responses to specific areas, and balance the health benefits against the economic, educational and social costs of specific response measures.