During a newly-designed Spring Quarter course, students did original research using pandemic data as it became available.

COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders have a short-term effect on people’s movement, school closings help slow the virus’ spread, and partisanship resonates throughout mitigation efforts – these represent just some of the findings from research studies produced by students at in a spring quarter class exploring government responses to the pandemic.

Professor Christopher Berry and Associate Professor Anthony Fowler conceived the new class, Government Responses to COVID-19, as a guided research project for students after the pandemic upended their plans to teach in Barcelona.

Unlike in courses where established datasets are analyzed, students in the course worked with statistics rolling out as the pandemic darted across the globe. Here is a snapshot of what they found:

“The ‘10-Day Effect’ of Statewide Shelter-in-Place Orders on Mobility”

Using publicly available cell-phone-tracking data, Tammy Glazer, MSCAPP’20, and Sam Handel-Meyer, MPP’20, studied the impact of state-level shelter-in-place orders on people’s movement, finding that SIP orders “did have a relatively small and short-term effect on mobility.”

Noting that shelter-in-place orders vary widely in terms of timing, severity, and enforcement, Glazer and Handel-Meyer said, “the national trend of reduced movement began well before governors enacted these policies, so social distancing cannot be fully attributed to stay-at-home orders.”

“However, our findings do suggest that there was a small yet significant change in mobility immediately before and for up to 10 days after these policies went into place.”

“School Closure, Mobility and COVID-19: International Evidence”

Josefina Rodríguez Orellana, MPP’21, and Camilo Arias Martelo, MSCAPP’20, looked at how pandemic-related school closings affected mobility, finding that “closing schools substantially slowed down the spread of the disease.”

With data from Google, Oxford and John Hopkins, they built a database of 111 countries. Nations, they said, on average closed schools when they were experiencing the highest level of growth in active cases.

“We find,” they said, “that the [school-closing] policy increased the time that people spent at home, compared to the baseline, by 2 to 3 percentage points. Although small in magnitude, this effect is reflected in a 10 percentage point reduction in the growth rate of active COVID-19 cases.”

“International Political Factors Influencing School Closing Policy as Government Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic”

To weigh whether political factors affect governments’ COVID-19 response, Minchen Sun, MPP’20, and Yue Wang, examined school closings around the world.

They set out to determine whether a government’s structure influences its willingness to close schools amid the pandemic and how quickly it acts once it has confirmed its first COVID-19 case.

Looking at democratic, non-democratic and interim period governments (a category for nations that are, for example, foreign-occupied), “the most noticeable finding,” they said, “is that there are no statistically significant differences in the way that countries with different governmental systems respond to COVID-19 in terms of school closing.”

“Acting, Fast or Slow: Partisanship and Local Government COVID-19 Policy Response”

Local U.S. officials’ party affiliation “indeed plays a role in coronavirus prevention actions,” Emma Van Lieshout, Class of 2022 and James Seddon, Class of 2021 found.

With data collected on U.S. counties and 25 cities in Texas, they tackled the questions of whether “partisan leanings of a given locality affect whether its government imposes a non-pharmaceutical intervention [such as a stay-at-home order] on the population it serves before any superior government does so.”

“We found that more Republican counties are less likely to act before their state when instituting stay-at-home orders: either waiting for a superior government to act or not seeing a need for such measures in the first place,” they said.

“Divergent Partisan Compliance with Shelter-in-Place Orders During the COVID-19 Pandemic”

Building on earlier research that found Democratic-leaning counties are more likely to urge social distancing than their Republican counterparts, Alec MacMillen, MSCAPP’20, focused on how shelter-in-place orders are affected by “different partisan persuasions.”

Results, MacMillen wrote, suggest that Democratic areas begin social distancing before mandatory orders.

“The complementary conclusion is that Republican counties were less sensitive to social distancing mandates than their Democratic counterparts, and the inclusion of controls for population density and COVID-19 incidence suggest that the gap is not due solely to the urban-rural divide or case counts.”

“Beyond Partisanship? Electoral Competitiveness and US Governors’ Policy Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic”

The impact of party affiliation on state policy was the focus for Andy Hatem and Emily Young who explored “how governors’ partisanship and the electoral incentives they faced influenced the policies they implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“We tentatively concur with prior findings that Democratic governors are more likely to adopt restrictive public-health measures than their Republican counterparts,” Hatem and Young reported. “We also find that Democratic governors are likely to maintain such policies for longer periods of time.”

“Even in an analysis that incorporates several other political factors,” they added, “partisanship seems to drive policy choices in response to COVID-19.”