Two and a half months ago, when Texas Governor Greg Abbott axed the state’s mask mandate and other COVID-related restrictions on businesses and people, Joe Biden called the move a “huge mistake” and “Neanderthal thinking.” Dr. Anthony Fauci, who advises Biden, called it “risky” and “potentially dangerous.” Both were proven wrong when weeks later Texas experienced no surge in cases. A dumbfounded Fauci refused to admit he was wrong and claimed that a spike in cases and deaths would show up as a lagging indicator.
But, no spike came. And last Sunday, Texas recorded zero COVID deaths for the first time since the pandemic.
While it’s clear that both Biden and Fauci have been proven wrong already, a new study has found, definitively, that there was no connection between the lifted mandates and people being infected by or dying from COVID-19.
The study, conducted by Bentley University economist Dhaval Dave, San Diego State University economist Joseph Sabia, and San Diego State University graduate research fellow Samuel Safford, used smartphone mobility data from SafeGraph and cases and deaths data compiled by The New York Times to analyze how the virus affected Texas before and after COVID restrictions were lifted on March 10.
“We find no evidence that the Texas reopening led to substantial changes in social mobility, including foot traffic at a wide set of business establishments in Texas,” the report says. “We find no evidence that the Texas reopening affected the rate of new COVID-19 cases during the five weeks following the reopening.” There was also no difference between urban and suburban areas, or Trump counties and Biden counties—which is particularly interesting considering Trump supporters have shown to be less inclined to adhere to mask mandates and other social distancing requirements.
We find that the Texas reopening had little impact on stay-at-home behavior or on foot traffic at numerous business locations, including restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, retail establishments, business services, personal care services, and grocery stores. We find no evidence that the reopening affected the rate of new COVID-19 cases in the five-week period following the reopening. In addition, we find that state-level COVID-19 mortality rates were unaffected by the March 10 reopening.”
The authors of the study did suggest that “there may be several explanations for why the Texas reopening had little effect on net social mobility.”
First, if individuals’ social distancing behaviors and activity patterns are more a function of (i) their private voluntary responses to perceived risk, or (ii) private demand shocks (job loss; uncertainty; loss in income) unrelated to policy, rather than by supply-side restrictions, then the imposition or lifting of such restrictions may have only small effects on behavior and population-based health outcomes. Moreover, even if the initial adoption of restrictions is effective and elicits a population response (for instance, see Dave et al. 2020c), as individuals update their risk assessment and amass information about the pandemic, their behaviors can become highly inelastic over time. Another reason why the reopening may not have induced a significant response in terms of stay-at-home behaviors and visits to businesses and restaurants/bars is if Texans were not significantly complying with the pre-March 10 restrictions to begin with. Third, while we did not find any meaningful heterogeneity across margins of urbanicity or political leanings, it is possible that there may be compositional changes at other unmeasured margins.
The authors also suggest that mass vaccinations may have also played a role.
In the end, one thing is clear: the “Neanderthal thinking” and “potentially dangerous” reopening of Texas played out exactly the opposite that Joe Biden and Dr. Fauci expected. Joe Biden is not a health expert, but Dr. Fauci is. Shouldn’t we expect more from someone who has such a huge influence over public health policy and public perception? Is there anyone who deserves their job less than Dr. Anthony Fauci (and you can’t say Joe Biden because that’s too obvious)?
Seriously though, how many mulligans does Fauci get before we can all collectively recognize that he’s not good at his job and should be replaced?