13 May 2021
During the first four months of 2021, the United States distributed approximately 250 million doses of COVID-19 vaccinations, which resulted in the complete vaccination of nearly 45 percent of the adult population. In the midst of this mass vaccination effort, Texas became the first state to abolish its statewide mask mandate and fully lift capacity constraints for all businesses. Governor Greg Abbott’s order was met with (i) concern by public health officials that an early reopening would lead to a resurgence of COVID-19, and (ii) assertions by Texas politicians that a reopening would generate short-run employment growth. This study provides the first empirical evidence on these claims. First, using daily anonymized smartphone data on social mobility from SafeGraph, Inc. — and synthetic control and difference-in-differences approaches — we find no evidence that the Texas reopening led to substantial changes in social mobility, including foot traffic at a wide set of business establishments in Texas. Second, using daily data on new COVID-19 cases from the New York Times, we find no evidence that the Texas reopening affected the rate of new COVID-19 cases during the five weeks following the reopening. Our null results persist across more urbanized and less urbanized counties, as well as across counties that supported Donald Trump and Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. Finally, we find no evidence that the Texas reopening order impacted short-run employment. Together, our null findings underscore the limits of late-pandemic era COVID-19 reopening policies to alter private behavior.