Covid Spread Was 8% Lower In Democrat-Led States Than GOP Because Of Stricter Restrictions, Study Finds

By Alison Durkee, Forbes Staff


States with Democratic governors had a lower spread of Covid-19 than Republican-led ones because of stricter public health measures, a new study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found, which researchers said underscores how much Covid-19 restrictions have been “politicized”—and why health professionals should be the ones calling the shots.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis takes his mask off at a press conference on May 06, 2020 in Miami Gardens, Florida. Getty Images

Key Facts

The peer-reviewed study, led by researchers at Binghamton University, determined a Public Health Protective Policy Index (PPI) that measured the “stringency” of states’ public health policies and analyzed those findings in relation to states’ Covid-19 transmission and the governors’ partisan affiliation.

The researchers looked at Covid-19 rates and policies between March and November 2020, as well as when specific states’ Covid-19 cases peaked.

Democratic-led states had a PPI that was approximately 10 points higher on average than states with GOP governors, though the study notes some Republican-led states like Maryland, Vermont and Massachusetts had stricter measures that were closer to the Democratic states.

The 10-point difference in PPI was linked to an 8% “increase in the expected number of new cases,” meaning the spread of Covid-19 was that much lower in Democratic-led states than Republican ones on average because they had more stringent measures in place.

Cases in New York at the start of the pandemic, for instance, would have been higher and peaked in May 2020 instead of April had the state not imposed strict restrictions, the study’s model found.

The study’s authors said their findings demonstrated the “apparent politicization of public health measures” and why it “could be beneficial” to leave decisions about such policies to “health professionals rather than political incumbents.”

Crucial Quote

“The main lesson of this research is that better public health requires a less partisan approach to the making of public health policies,” study co-author Olga Shvetsova, a political science professor at Binghamton University, State University of New York, said in a statement.

Chief Critic

Republican governors have defended their hands-off approaches to Covid-19 restrictions, claiming measures like lockdowns and mask mandates are unwarranted violations of people’s freedoms. “In terms of imposing any restrictions, you know, that’s not happening in Florida,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said in August as the state faced a massive Covid-19 surge. “It’s harmful. It’s disruptive. It does not work.”

Key Background

The Binghamton-led study is in line with other studies showing the effectiveness of Covid-19 mitigation policies like mask mandates and stay-at-home orders, and a previous study also published in the AJPM similarly linked GOP states’ more lax restrictions with higher Covid-19 metrics than their Democratic counterparts. Covid-19 measures like lockdowns and mask mandates have been politicized throughout the pandemic and become a partisan issue, and many Republican governors have not only lifted restrictions but also banned local governments and schools from imposing them entirely. Republicans have also been the largest demographic to refuse the Covid-19 vaccines, which has resulted in a number of conservative-led states with lower vaccination rates being harder hit by the recent surge of the highly infectious delta variant.

Further Reading

Governor's Party, Policies, and COVID-19 Outcomes: Further Evidence of an Effect (American Journal of Preventative Medicine)

As GOP Governors Drop Restrictions, Study Finds Their Policies Linked To Higher Covid-19 Cases And Deaths (Forbes)

Delta-Fueled Covid Surge Spurs New CDC Mask Guidance — Here Are The States Where Mask Mandates Can’t Legally Be Reimposed (Forbes)

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