A new study by five researchers published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found “no evidence that the repeal of [Wisconsin’s stay-at-home order”] impacted social distancing, COVID-19 cases, or COVID-19-related mortality during the fortnight following enactment.”
You will recall that the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the state’s emergency stay-at-home order, in full, on May 13. That led Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers to say then, “We’re the Wild West.. There are no restrictions at all across the state of Wisconsin. . . . So at this point in time…there is nothing compelling people to do anything other than having chaos here.”
That made for a “unique natural experiment,” according to the researchers, providing a look at the consequences of a full, clean break from stay-at-home restrictions.
The researchers attributed the results largely to continued, voluntary adherence to social distancing measures. Lifting stay-at-home rules, the researchers said, “does not mean that individuals will exercise that right, and does not mean that if they do, that they will not do so responsibly.”
In other words, most people acted sensibly even though their governor wasn’t micromanaging their lives.
Press reports in Illinois and around the country focused pictures of large groups in bars and at a beach in Lake Geneva taken immediately after the Wisconsin order was voided. However, those were misleading, if the researchers are correct. Anecdotally, I can confirm that they were misleading. I was in the Lake Geneva area at the time. Little changed. Most restaurants, bars and shops remained mostly or entirely closed. I am there again now and they are only now opening, and very timidly, with no large crowds.
Illinois Governor JB Pritzker said on May 26 that he was “terribly dismayed” about the supposed crowds in Wisconsin. He cited an uptick in COVID hospitalizations at that time and said, “I think that’s an example of what can happen if people don’t follow the mitigations that are supposed to be put in place, that are supposed to keep people healthy and safe”
In fact, despite a brief uptick then, hospitalizations in Wisconsin have dropped to just 306, the lowest since May 6. A chart is below. Wisconsin’s other metrics have improved pretty much across the board, particularly on the effective reproduction rate. That rate is now 0.87, which means each infected individual infects less than one additional person and the virus is receding. Since last month, as reported here, Wisconsin has moved from near worst reproduction rates above 1 to now among the ten best.