Here’s Proof That Stay-at-Home Orders Really Work

Photo: Getty Images / Westend61
Over the last few months, stay-at-home orders throughout the United States have been lifted. The freedom to go to stores, return to work, or eat out every once in a while has provided a massive relief for many, but a new crop of research out of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, suggests that staying home (to the very best of your abilities) still proves to be one of the "key nonpharmacological measures" to slow the spread of COVID-19.

In the cross-sectional study published Tuesday in JAMA Network Open, researchers compared the confirmed cases with median travel distance and median time spent at home of 45 million anonymous mobile phone devices from March 11, 2020, to April 10, 2020. The study authors hoped that the data would show them how COVID-19 cases have changed under more relaxed quarantine measures (causing the median travel distance to increase while the time at home decreased), and their research painted a pretty clear picture.

"These findings suggest that stay-at-home social distancing mandates, when they were followed by measurable mobility changes, were associated with reduction in COVID-19 spread," write the study authors. Translation: When people stayed at home and limited their movement as much as possible, scientists observed a significant drop in cases per capita compared to when people stayed home less often and traveled to neighboring and distant states.

The University of Wisconsin researchers expressed their hopes that the findings will inform the safety precautions created by lawmakers as the battle against the virus continues into autumn and winter. "The findings come at a particularly critical period when U.S. states are beginning to reopen their economies but COVID-19 cases are surging. At such a time, our study suggests the efficacy of stay-at-home social distancing measures and could inform future public health policymaking," write the study authors.

Of course, not everyone's livelihood has the flexibility to translate effortlessly into a work-from-home schedule—no matter how dire the situation. So leading into the fall, when researchers predict the virus will continue to pose known and new threats to the population, doing your very best to stay within your own four walls will be just as important as wearing your mask and practicing social distancing when you are in public. Staying at home is showing up right now; bear that in mind as the summer draws to a close.

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