Evaluating the Effectiveness of Policies Against a Pandemic

We develop a novel empirical approach to identify the effectiveness of policies against a pandemic. The essence of our approach is the insight that epidemic dynamics are best tracked over stages, rather than over time. We use a normalization procedure, built around making the pre-policy paths of the epidemic identical across regions, to uncover regional variation in the stage of the epidemic at the time of policy implementation. This variation delivers clean identification of the policy effect based on the epidemic path of a leading region that serves as a counterfactual for other regions. We apply our method to evaluate the effectiveness of the nationwide stay-home policy enacted in Spain against the Covid-19 pandemic. We find that the policy saved 15.9% of lives. Its effectiveness evolves with the epidemic and is larger when implemented at earlier stages.