Shelter-in-place orders prevented as many as 370K deaths, Health Affairs finds

By | July 10, 2020

Dive Brief:

  • Shelter-in-place orders saved as many as 250,000 to 370,000 lives, according to a new study in the journal Health Affairs, and may have helped 840,000 hospitalizations be avoided.

  • The study analyzed data from March to mid-May, when 42 states and the District of Columbia had shelter-in-place orders in effect. The orders caused the daily mortality rate from COVID-19 to decline by 6.1%, while hospitalization rates declined by 8.4%, six weeks after the orders were enacted.

  • Although coronavirus cases are peaking again in populous southern states such as California, Florida and Texas, it remains to be seen if there is enough political will for states to revert to shelter-in-place orders anytime soon.

Dive Insight:

There has been much hand-wringing over shelter-in-place orders, particularly depending on the political leanings of specific states. California and New York closed up earlier than states in the more conservative Southeast. Texas and Florida reopened much sooner than bluer states. Deep red Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming provided no statewide shelter-in-place orders at all.

But according to the study conducted by researchers at the University of Iowa, stay-at-home mandates reduced hospital admissions and saved lives.

Mortality rates were pushed downward significantly within three weeks of enacting a shelter-in-place order, while hospitalization rates dropped significantly after about two weeks.

The evidence suggests shelter-in-place orders played an “important role in decelerating the growth curve for COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations,” researchers wrote.

“The estimates imply that the inpatient care burden on hospitals and medical staff would have been much larger without [the orders]. Had this excess burden not been averted, mortality from other conditions might have also increased due to overcrowded hospitals,” the study says.

However, the study’s authors also acknowledged the economic impact of shelter-in-place orders, and also admitted they are “not sustainable over extensive periods.”

Meanwhile, many states are experiencing spikes in coronavirus cases after relaxing shelter-in-place orders. Yet many of them appear to be reluctant to take aggressive action a second time around. That’s despite the fact 100 Texas counties have banned elective surgeries due to lack of hospital capacity and intensive care units in Mississippi have recently reached capacity.

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