Early Evidence on Social Distancing in Response to COVID-19 in the United States

35 Pages Posted: 6 Apr 2020 Last revised: 25 Jun 2020

Date Written: April 5, 2020


The COVID-19 pandemic continues to grow in the United States and, in the absence of a vaccine or effective treatment, social distancing measures are essential to slow the spread of this disease. Using cellular mobility data from 2019 and 2020, I demonstrate that there have been substantial increases in social distancing since the start of the pandemic. Rates of voluntary, as opposed to mandatory, social distancing varies by county characteristics, including partisanship, media consumption, and racial and ethnic composition. Mandatory measures to increase social distancing appear to be effective, most notably stay at home orders which increase the share of devices at home by 2 percentage points. Social distancing orders also appear to have substantial informational content and, in the case of mask mandates, the informational content appears to be greater than the gross effect of mask mandates on behavior. These results provide insight into the importance of communicating the threat posed by COVID-19, since most changes in social distancing appear to be voluntary, plausibly reflecting beliefs about disease risk.

Keywords: COVID, COVID-19, social distancing, health, coronavirus

JEL Classification: I12, H12, H84, H75, K32

Suggested Citation

Andersen, Martin, Early Evidence on Social Distancing in Response to COVID-19 in the United States (April 5, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3569368 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3569368

Martin Andersen (Contact Author)

UNC Greensboro ( email )

Greensboro, NC 27402-6165
United States
3363343904 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://https://sites.google.com/site/msandersen/

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