Masked people walk down Middle Street in Portland on Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

A group of conservative economists rated Maine’s COVID-19 response highly compared to most of the rest of the U.S., saying the state was able to keep pandemic deaths low while limiting economic harm.

The study, which was published this week as a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper and has not yet been peer-reviewed, gives Maine an A grade for its overall pandemic response, with only seven states receiving higher numeric scores. It is notable because two of the three authors have strong ties to former President Donald Trump and Maine stands alone as a state with a Democratic governor receiving a high grade under its methodology.

The authors grade states based on health, economic outcomes and education, evaluating each state’s pandemic death rates adjust for age and other risk factors, along with unemployment rates and GDP as well as a metric aiming to represent how open schools were during the 2020-21 year as tracked by the event platform Burbio.

Since the start of the pandemic, Maine has had the fifth-lowest COVID-19 death rate, according to the New York Times, despite being the oldest state in the nation. When adjusting for age and health risk factors, the study’s authors ranked Maine’s health performance third best in the nation, trailing only Vermont and Hawaii.

They gave Maine more middle-of-the-road scores for economic and education response. The authors noted the state saw a less dramatic contraction in its GDP than many others and gave it average marks on unemployment, knocking it for less use of full-time in-person learning in the first pandemic school year. Many Maine schools relied on hybrid schooling during that time.

But the average of those competing metrics are still enough to make Maine under Gov. Janet Mills one of six states that received an A grade for pandemic response, the study’s authors conclude. Three additional states — Vermont, Nebraska and Utah — received an A+.

The study is not the first to attempt to grade states’ on pandemic response, and previous attempts from researchers and news  outlets have found varied results. How to measure outcomes, such as education, as well as identify causal effects and weigh tradeoffs, have been significant sources of contention as the pandemic became increasingly politicized. A 2021 study on health outcomes in the first year of the pandemic ranks Maine, Vermont and Alaska highest.

The authors of the recent study all have conservative backgrounds. They include Casey Mulligan, who was the chief economist on Trump’s Council of Economic Advisors in 2018 and 2019, and Stephen Moore, who the former president later tried to nominate to the Federal Reserve before the prospective pick ran into bipartisan Senate opposition.