Natural Experiment

It looks like Texas and Mississippi have decided to conduct a natural experiment by lifting all Covid-related restrictions by next week:

The governors of Texas and Mississippi both announced Tuesday that they are lifting statewide mask mandates and allowing businesses to reopen at full capacity even as the decline of daily Covid-19 cases slows and federal officials urge states to exercise caution.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said at a press briefing at Montelongo’s Mexican Restaurant in Lubbock that he will issue a new executive order that rescinds most of his previous Covid-19 restrictions, including a statewide mask mandate. He added that all businesses would be allowed to open “100 percent,” effective March 10.

Will Feuer, CNBC

As far as I can tell, these are the first states to completely lift all pandemic-related restrictions since it began last year. I call this a “natural experiment” because it will test at least two ideas.

First, of course, we’ll want to pay attention to community spread in Texas and whether opening before more people are vaccinated will cause a spike in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. We already know that states and localities where restricters have always been less comprehensive have higher per capita rates of all three (NYT metered paywall). This makes opening now a cultural and political decision made without regard to public safety and health – much like the Texas decision to protect its electric grid from Federal regulation by disconnecting it from grids in other states. This did not turn out well.

I’m also wondering if businesses most affected by restrictions start to come back now that they may reopen at full capacity. Some gyms, restaurants, sports venues, and other indoor businesses will choose not to reopen for one reason or another. We may also find that those that do see only a small increase in traffic. Those who don’t mind dining indoors because they don’t fear the virus will continue to do so. But many customers who feel comfortable eating at a diner indoors as long as everyone inside is (mostly) masked may now decide to stay home. People who still get nervous around others will only fear crowds more, especially if this causes higher community spread, as the data would predict. For this reason, opening businesses completely with no restrictions may not have the effects these Governors expect.

We’ll see what happens. I happen to think that waiting only thirty more days would be very wise. But I guess Texas and Mississippi gonna Texas and Mississippi.

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