CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — More states across the country have lifted pandemic restrictions as cases drop.
Meanwhile, the new omicron subvariant, BA.2, is on its way to becoming the dominant coronavirus strain. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions, the subvariant accounts for some 35% of new U.S. COVID-19.
However, the nation averages about 27,000 coronavirus cases per week, even with the medical community watching for a new strain.
Yet as the new variant surges worldwide, many wonder if the world will have to shelter in place again.
A University of Chicago study researched whether or not shelter-in-place mandates work, if they helped minimize COVID-19 cases and deaths, and how it affected the world.
Non-essential businesses closed. Much of the American workforce was stuck at home. That’s how the nation looked as 43 states issued stay-at-home orders between March and April 2020.
Previous studies have claimed shelter-in-place orders saved thousands of lives, but one group of researchers at the University of Chicago put this theory to the test.
“We wanted to find out is whether the shelter in place orders were making a difference. In terms of reducing the spread of the disease and deaths from the disease, and also whether they’re making a difference on the cost side, in terms of reducing economic activity,” said Christopher Berry, a public policy professor at the University of Chicago.
It turns out Americans aren’t good at following rules. Smartphone location data shows that Americans only decreased their movements, on average, by less than 1% during the stay-at-home mandates.
“There was one group of people who were already changing their behavior already sheltering in place, without any need for an order from the government to do so,” Berry said. “There’s a second group of people who were not going to change their behavior no matter what, without the policy or with the policy.”
In fact, according to the study, the mandates had no detectable effect on either COVID-19 cases or deaths — and only small effects on the economy.
“There were absolutely business closures and reductions in business that took place during the pandemic, and what we were trying to ask is whether shelter-in-place order contributed to that,” Berry said. “So while we didn’t find great health benefits, we didn’t really find large economic costs either.”
With the new BA.2 variant on the rise, Berry said Americans need to learn from the research and adapt.
“I think we may be at a point in the pandemic where we want to focus more on protecting the most vulnerable among us, rather than trying to change the behavior of the society at large,” Berry said.
Berry also said while these mandates didn’t appear to have a huge impact on the first wave of the virus, there are ways that we can take what we’ve learned and apply it today.