Evaluating the effects of shelter-in-place policies during the COVID-19 pandemic

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2021 Apr 13;118(15):e2019706118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2019706118.


We estimate the effects of shelter-in-place (SIP) orders during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. We do not find detectable effects of these policies on disease spread or deaths. We find small but measurable effects on mobility that dissipate over time. And we find small, delayed effects on unemployment. We conduct additional analyses that separately assess the effects of expanding versus withdrawing SIP orders and test whether there are spillover effects in other states. Our results are consistent with prior studies showing that SIP orders have accounted for a relatively small share of the mobility trends and economic disruptions associated with the pandemic. We reanalyze two prior studies purporting to show that SIP orders caused large reductions in disease prevalence, and show that those results are not reliable. Our results do not imply that social distancing behavior by individuals, as distinct from SIP policy, is ineffective.

Keywords: COVID-19; disease spread; government policy; mobility; shelter-in-place policies.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 / epidemiology*
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control
  • COVID-19 / transmission
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious / prevention & control
  • Emergency Shelter* / economics
  • Emergency Shelter* / trends
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Physical Distancing
  • Policy
  • Prevalence
  • SARS-CoV-2 / isolation & purification
  • Time Factors
  • Unemployment / statistics & numerical data