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Heather Tookes Alexopoulos Publications

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Incomplete vaccine uptake and limited vaccine availability for some segments of the population could lead policymakers to consider re-imposing restrictions to help reduce fatalities. Early in the pandemic, full business shutdowns were commonplace. Given this response, much of the literature on policy effectiveness has focused on full closures and their impact. But were complete closures necessary? Using a hand-collected database of partial business closures for all U.S. counties from March through December 2020, we examine the impact of capacity restrictions on COVID-19 fatality growth. For the restaurant and bar sector, we find that several combinations of partial capacity restrictions are as effective as full shutdowns. For example, point estimates indicate that, for the average county, limiting restaurants and bars to 25% of capacity reduces the fatality growth rate six weeks ahead by approximately 43%, while completely closing them reduces fatality growth by about 16%. The evidence is more mixed for the other sectors that we study. We find that full gym closures reduce the COVID-19 fatality growth rate, while partial closures may be counterproductive relative to leaving capacity unrestricted. Retail closures are ineffective, but 50% capacity limits reduce fatality growth. We find that restricting salons, other personal services and movie theaters is either ineffective or counterproductive.

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We collect a time-series database of business and related restrictions for every county in the United States from March through December 2020. We find strong evidence consistent with the idea that employee mask policies, mask mandates for the general population, restaurant and bar closures, gym closures, and high-risk business closures reduce future fatality growth. Other business restrictions, such as second-round closures of low- to medium-risk businesses and personal care/spa services, did not generate consistent evidence of lowered fatality growth and may have been counterproductive.