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Pandemic responsiveness: evidence from social distancing and lockdown policy during COVID-19

Besley, Timothy and Dray, Sacha (2022) Pandemic responsiveness: evidence from social distancing and lockdown policy during COVID-19. PLOS ONE, 17 (5). ISSN 1932-6203

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Identification Number: 10.1371/journal.pone.0267611


We study changes in social distancing and government policy in response to local outbreaks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Using aggregated county-level data from approximately 20 million smartphones in the United States, we show that social distancing behaviors have responded to local outbreaks: a 1% increase in new cases (deaths) is associated with a 3% (11%) increase in social distancing intensity. Responsiveness is reinforced by the presence of public measures restricting movements, but remains significant in their absence. Responsiveness is higher in high-income, more educated, or Democrat-leaning counties, and in counties with low health insurance coverage. By contrast, social capital and vulnerability to infection are strongly associated with more social distancing but not with more responsiveness. Our results point to the importance of politics, trust and reciprocity for compliance with social distancing, while material constraints are more critical for being responsive to new risks such as the emergence of variants.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2022 The Authors
Divisions: Economics
School of Public Policy
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Subjects: R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
Date Deposited: 13 Apr 2022 09:48
Last Modified: 20 Jul 2024 00:21

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