By: Kelsey Cook, Office of the Vice President for Research, and Leslie Wells, O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI
As COVID-19 began spreading across the United States, governors found themselves needing to react—and fast. Many began issuing executive orders aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. O’Neill IUPUI’s Peter Federman and Cali Curley are examining the executive orders issued and future ramifications of those decisions.
Federman and Curley, both assistant professors in the Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, are looking at executive orders issued from all 50 states. They are coding each one to gain a better understanding of which orders worked and which ones did not make an impact.
“We want to know what orders are coming from the top level, when they were put into place, what they do and don’t do, how they delegate power, and how they differ from state to state,” Federman said. “We are building a very robust data set that will help us understand the overall progression of how the country and each state has adapted using these executive orders.”
They have found two types of executive orders—restrictions and suspensions. Restrictions include limiting gatherings, closing non-essential businesses, and visitation rules. Suspensions aim to relieve pressure on citizens, business and government—such as postponing elections or extending tax deadlines.
Curley and Federman, along with a team of graduate students, are creating a public portal to display their findings to help leaders better understand the impact of their decisions for the future, and to help individuals hold their governments accountable by offering a look at what restrictions were rolled back and how their governance changed during and after the pandemic.
“Some of these suspensions have an impact on the public, without the public noticing unless they are paying close attention,” Curley said. “These aspects of the COVID-19 response may have longer lasting impacts on transparency and accountability in local and state governance.”
“A lot of significant, drastic changes are being made as part of these orders, such as suspensions of administrative rules and deadlines that have never been suspended before, and some states may not be anxious to roll these back quickly,” Federman added. “It’s good for the public to see how the governance of their state has changed very significantly in such a short period of time, so that in two or three months, when we are hopefully moving out of this, they can see what has changed in their state.”
Data is still being processed, but initial results from four states—Indiana, Montana, Ohio, and Florida—reveal interesting differences and similarities in how states are managing their COVID-19 responses. In all four states, there was drop in public movement just prior to the stay-at-home order. While the order may be working to keep people socially distanced, it appears many had already made the decision to follow CDC guidance.
When comparing Indiana to Montana, Florida, and Ohio, Gov. Eric Holcomb may appear to have issued fewer orders, but each order tended to include more substance.
“This is indicative of a centralized approach,” Federman says. “It doesn’t necessarily mean Indiana has done less but it could mean that one single order includes multiple suspensions or restrictions, rather than having separate orders for each one.”
Different states are using different approaches. While some, including Indiana, lean more toward a centralized approach–in which most decision and orders come from the governor–there are others that use a decentralized approach, allowing agency heads and the health department to issue orders. Still other states use an ad hoc version, relying on agency executives to make decisions. States can use this knowledge to learn from each other and be better prepared for future outbreaks.
“This can inform the pandemic playbook by building a sense of what executive orders work so we can refine the toolkit in the future,” Curley said. “We can learn lessons from these mandates about how we communicate to the public and what language works in encouraging compliance.”
Beyond examining executive orders issued by the states, Federman and Curley are also looking into the impact of orders issued in counties with 10 or more confirmed COVID-19 cases. Many of these orders have to do with social distancing, which often come in the form of a recommendation with little to no enforcement attached.
“We are thinking about these social distancing orders in terms of voluntary compliance, the idea that individuals are given a choice to make a behavioral change, and people are being asked to comply without enforcement mechanisms in place,” Curley said. “If the benefits are not clear enough, people may not decide to comply, but we know from other countries and our early outbreak states, that enforcement may be necessary to ensure compliance.”
The researchers observed that some executive orders have begun including enforcement mechanisms, such as fines or jail time. Their research will determine whether more restrictive policies did, in fact, lead to increased social distancing – knowledge that cities can use to prepare for future public heath crises.
“As we’re learning, others can too, including people in positions to make decisions that impact the health and safety of people in their cities,” Federman said.
As states start to reopen, Federman and Curley will be monitoring to see what happens.
More information on the COVID-19 Google Mobility Reports can be found at this link: https://www.google.com/covid19/mobility/
Unacast Social Distancing Scoreboard: https://www.unacast.com/covid19/social-distancing-scoreboard)
COVID-19 Executive Orders Database (currently housed at IUPUI, data available upon request)