Grade 9-12

Role of State Governments Programs in Crises

Time: 60 mins,
Updated: February 16 2021,


Students will be able to:

  • Analyze economic data and policy actions by state governments during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Evaluate the extent to which state governments’ policies related to the COVID-19 pandemic prioritized the health and safety of citizens, while also focusing on economic recovery.

In this economics lesson, students will research actions taken by state governments to evaluate the effectiveness in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.



The COVID-19 pandemic has forced states to make difficult decisions related to the allocation and distribution of scarce resources, business operations, and the appropriate level of government intervention in America’s free enterprise system. This lesson investigates how the actions and inactions of state governments have sought to address the sudden and pronounced recession catalyzed by Coronavirus. This economic downturn is quite different than others experienced in American history; cost-benefit analysis must be used by policy makers as they consider the tradeoffs associated with rescuing the economy and its impact on the burgeoning national debt, while paying careful attention to the value of human lives.

Display Slide 1 and ask students to write down (or type into a collaboration board such as Padlet, Nearpod, or JamBoard) thoughts on the opening question, “What is the role of state government in emergency situations, like a pandemic?” Give students 3 – 4 minutes to thoughtfully respond to the opening question. Then, ask for student volunteers to share their answers. (Answers will vary, but the teacher should be sure to insert some of the major roles of state government in emergency situations such as closures and reopening procedures for businesses and schools, social distancing requirements, quarantine regulations, travel restrictions, testing and reporting of number of cases and deaths, contact tracing, administration and distribution of federal emergency funds, unemployment insurance extensions. It should be noted that the previous list is not all-encompassing and students may list other functions of state and local governments that may be correct.)

Explain to students that they will investigate the varied responses of states to the COVID-19 pandemic and will analyze the reasons for those decisions.


Display the essential dilemma, “Can state governments’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic prioritize the health and safety of citizens while also focusing on economic stability?” on Slide 2. Tell students that they will focus on using data from different sources to formulate an informed response to the essential dilemma.

Explain that the response of state governments to the COVID-19 pandemic has been a topic of great debate.

Display Slide 3. Explain to students that in the lesson today, they will examine several factors relating to economic indicators, health outcomes, and trends at the state level. Each student will be assigned a state by the teacher (the teacher should be sure to assign states from different geographic areas and with various political leanings) and will be asked to compile data and relevant details relating to the following categories:

  • State open status score
  • Mask requirements
  • School reopening status
  • Unemployment rates from March 2020, April 2020, and present
  • Decline in state revenues 2021
  • Trend in COVID-19 Cases
  • Percent Change in Real GDP by state

As they explore this information, students will select four emojis that illustrate the state’s ability to prioritize the health and safety of citizens and economic stability. Students should provide an explanation for why they selected each emoji. Further instructions are explained below.

Use Slide 4 to explain that economists often use cost-benefit analysis as a model for decision making. Tell students that cost-benefit analysis is something that they do every day, especially as they make major decisions. Anyone who has completed a pros and cons chart has conducted cost-benefit analysis. On this slide, the teacher will explain the costs and benefits states have faced when deciding whether to reopen their economies and loosen restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Distribute Handout 1: Instructions for Completing Emoji Ratings for States’ COVID-19 Responses. Ask students to read the instructions as you read aloud. The handout also contains websites students will use to access data and information to help them form a picture of the state’s actions relating to COVID-19 and current economic and health conditions. An appendix with time sensitive data is also included at the end.

Distribute Activity 1: Emoji Ratings for States’ COVID-19 Responses. Explain that students will use this handout or electronic spreadsheet to record research on their assigned state. Alternatively, you may make a copy of the Google Sheet, share with students, and give them editing rights, so that all information is captured in one spreadsheet. Emphasize that students will not complete the last category, “Emoji Ratings,” until the next phase of the lesson when they will collaborate with a small group; however, it may be helpful to encourage students to consider which emojis they regularly use in text or social media that could be used to describe their state’s actions during the pandemic.

Display Slide 5 and explain that you will model how to complete this information using data and information for South Carolina. Explain the indicators one by one, asking students to comment on how and why each of these might be useful in determining whether or not the state government’s response was adequate in addressing the challenges posed by the pandemic. For example, students may link the connection between schools being allowed to reopen and the ability of parents to return to work. Students may also use unemployment data and COVID-19 trends in the state to determine if the political actions have successfully addressed key economic and health concerns. Be sure to highlight the last column, the “Emojis Rating and Cost-Benefit Analysis” and discuss how each of the emojis chosen for South Carolina relate to that state’s actions in handling the health and economic concerns imposed by the pandemic.

Group Activity

After students have completed their work, announce that you will now explain the group collaboration portion of the lesson. Use Slide 6 to explain instructions for the group activity. In this part of the lesson, students will take turns sharing out information related to the states they researched (1 – 2 minutes per student). After synthesizing information from each state represented, students will work collaboratively to assign “emoji ratings” for each state based on the state’s ability to prioritize the health and safety of its citizens while also maintaining economic stability. Students will use the data provided for each state and social skills (from texting, participating in social media, and other forms of popular teenage culture) to select four appropriate emojis that they believe visually represent the state’s reactions and handling of COVID-19. Students should provide an explanation for why they assigned each emoji. Tell students that they will have 15 minutes in their groups to complete this portion of the activity. Note: It may be beneficial for the teacher to pre-assign groups of students, paying close attention to creating groups representing states from different geographic regions. To make the process more efficient, the teacher may choose to create a slide with the predetermined groups. (In the case of virtual or hybrid learning, the teacher may choose to create breakout rooms in which groups will collaborate.) In addition, some teachers may wish to predetermine a list of emojis that may be used during this activity.

Individual Activity

Assign each student a state. It may be helpful for the teacher to pre-assign states to students and add a slide to the presentation with student assignments. Redirect students to the instructions on Handout 1: Instructions for Completing Emoji Ratings for States’ COVID-19 Responses. Tell students that they will be given 7 – 8 minutes to complete their research before moving into small groups.

Using the websites on Handout 1: Instructions for Completing Emoji Ratings for States’ COVID-19 Responses, allow students 7 – 8 minutes to quietly complete research on their assigned state. The teacher will circulate the room and answer questions from students as they arise. (If the school uses a Learning Management System like Google Classroom or Canvas, the teacher may choose to upload the handouts and spreadsheet for students to easily access on their devices.)


For the remainder of class or for homework, students will complete Activity 3: Exit Ticket, responding to the following questions in complete sentences:

  1. What costs and benefits exist for states that chose a more open approach to reopening?
  2. What costs and benefits exist for states that chose a more closed approach to reopening?
  3. Is it possible for state governments’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic to prioritize the health and safety of citizens while also focusing on economic stability? Explain using specific examples from your research or group activity.