News Story

Study Finds Devastating Costs, Few Benefits From Michigan’s Extreme Fall-Winter Lockdown

States with less destructive policies also had fewer deaths

Michigan’s second COVID-19 lockdown, which occurred in fall 2020, resulted in substantial job losses and deteriorating mental health, according to a new study by an economist at the University of Michigan-Flint. The lockdown, according to professor Chris Douglas, was inconsistent with guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and had no perceptible effect on COVID fatality rates.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called the lockdown a “Pause to Save Lives,” closing Michigan bars and restaurants to indoor dining from November 2020 to February 2021.

In a report titled “The Costs of Michigan’s Second Lockdown,” Douglas concluded that Michigan suffered more in economic and social costs than it gained in safety. His report was published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, where Douglas is an adjunct scholar.

Douglas compared fatality rates in Michigan to those of six of its neighbors. “Daily data on COVID-19 fatality trends,” he wrote, “do not seem to show a connection between shutdowns and a reduction in deaths.” He also looked at two large states outside the region, each with very different policies. California, like Michigan, imposed stringent lockdown orders, while Florida did not impose a face mask mandate and has had minimal restrictions. Yet California experienced a greater increase in fatality rates than Florida did from late March 2020 through January of this year.

The CDC, Douglas wrote, found a significant increase in mental health problems in 2020. It said that 40% of respondents in a national survey were suffering from poor mental health or substance abuse. Anxiety rates, it said, were three times higher than they were before the pandemic, and the rate of suicide contemplation among adults rose from 4.3% in 2018 to 11% in 2020.

Michigan’s restaurants and taverns gave up 64,000 jobs from October through January. The 23% loss in jobs was the highest of all Midwestern states. Illinois was second, with a 15% loss. Employment at bars and restaurants in Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio — which were never ordered to halt indoor service during the late-fall virus surge — declined 5% or less.

The study also challenges claims that Michigan’s pandemic responses in early 2020 followed CDC guidelines. Whitmer has said her executive orders followed CDC guidelines for quarantines and shutdowns. According to the agency, the U.S. has experienced a level three pandemic. The CDC says states should, at that level, consider social distancing in the workplace, voluntary isolation of contagious or exposed individuals, and cancelling large group events and in-person schooling for up to four weeks. Even for a more severe level five pandemic, however, the CDC never recommends shutting large sectors of a state’s economy, as the Michigan governor did on two occasions.

Douglas estimates that by the time the pandemic has run its course, 10% of restaurants and bars nationwide will have closed their doors forever.

“We can clearly see that the costs of the shutdowns have been devastating,” Douglas wrote. “Unfortunately, the shutdown did not appear to provide any noticeable benefits that could justify the massive costs to the jobs and livelihoods of Michigan’s citizens.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.