What were the results of states’ actions to mitigate COVID-19?

Three experts tackled this question and published their results in a recent NBER working paper titled “A Final Report Card on the States’ Response to COVID-19.” They analyzed performance in three categories – economy, education, and mortality – and used common-sense measures to rank results. 

North Carolina ranked 17th in economy, 34th in education, and 7th in mortality for a combined rank of 13thoverall. 

The Tar Heel state’s economic rank resulted from our unemployment and GDP levels. North Carolina could have been much worse off economically without our state’s aggressive tax reforms and legislators’ efforts to set aside substantial amounts to the Rainy Day Fund.  

North Carolina’s poor performance in education was due to school closures. Our share of in-person instruction was an abysmal 50.8%. The authors reminded us that “school closures may ultimately prove to be the most costly policy decision of the pandemic era in both economic and mortality terms” and “unlike mortality or economic outcomes, closing public schools was entirely under the control of policymakers.”

When measuring mortality, the prevalence of obesity, diabetes, and old age was strongly correlated with COVID-related deaths. The study concluded that locked-down economies did not have better health. Other studies found lockdowns to be deadly. Unfortunately, North Carolina’s delay in reporting deaths may have inflated our mortality rank. The study stated that North Carolina can “be expected to move down these rankings as data becomes more complete.” 

The Wall Street Journal highlighted this study as “the most comprehensive comparative study we’ve seen to date.” States’ responses to Covid will be examined for years to come as they continue to affect citizens’ well-being, ways of life, and trust in institutions of government.