LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) – A study released by the University of Kentucky on Wednesday indicates Gov. Andy Beshear’s “Healthy at Home” social distancing efforts have had a major effect on reducing the number of coronavirus cases in Kentucky.
The study, coauthored by the Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise faculty affiliates and UK professors Charles Courtemanche and Aaron Yelowitz, attempted to measure the effect of state-mandated social distancing measures on the growth rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Kentucky.
They developed a model based on differences in the scope and timing of government-imposed social distancing measures implemented across the Midwest and South to estimate the number of COVID-19 confirmed cases that would have occurred in Kentucky, if state government had not imposed specific restrictions and relied only on voluntary social distancing by individuals and businesses.
According to their model, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Kentucky would have reached nearly 45,000 by April 25 without any state-imposed social distancing measures, rather than the actual total of 4,375 as of Thursday, April 28. In other words, the state’s restrictions have prevented more than 90 percent of confirmed cases that would have otherwise occurred.
Although the authors did not directly examine deaths, combining the estimated reduction in cases with the COVID-19 case fatality rate in Kentucky, suggests that the measures have saved approximately 2,000 lives so far.
The study concludes that shelter-in-place orders like Kentucky’s “Healthy at Home” initiative and closures of restaurant dining areas, bars, gyms, and other entertainment-related facilities were particularly effective at preventing COVID-19 infections.
However, bans on group gatherings and public-school closures that were not accompanied by a shelter-in-place order were not effective, suggesting that individuals substitute for other types of social interaction that continued to spread the virus.
“These results suggest that Kentucky policymakers should be cautious when opening up the economy,” said Courtemanche, Director of the Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise and one of the study’s coauthors.
“Therefore, returning to partial restrictions without a broader shelter-in-place directive may not be enough to contain the spread of the virus. However, the public health benefits from strong social distancing restrictions need to continue to be weighed against the massive economic losses that disproportionately affect low-wage sectors of the economy.”
The Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise is part of UK’s Gatton College of Business and Economics.