The COVID-19 Pandemic: Government vs. Community Action Across the United States
Using data from 40 million mobile devices across the US, this paper analyses how state and county governments’ non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI) aimed at restricting social contact interact with individuals’ physical distancing behavior in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We use difference-in-differences and instrumental-variable approaches to find that such NPIs lead to a significant uptake in physical distancing. Our estimates show that shelter-in-place policies can increase time spent at home by as much as 39%. Nevertheless, individuals engage in limited physical distancing even in the absence of NPIs, once the virus takes hold in their area. Moreover, we show that governments are more likely to implement lock-down policies if they face a population that does not take physical distancing measures on its own. Our analysis suggests that non-causal econometric approaches studying how the uptake in physical distancing responds to lock-down policies will yield biased results. Exploiting county-level data, we document significant socio-economic heterogeneity in individuals’ responses to the spread of COVID-19 and to lock-downs, and show how state- and county-level policies interact.
By Adam Brzezinski, Guido Deiana, Valentin Kecht and David Van Dijcke (University of Oxford – The Institute for New Economic Thinking)