Testing, Voluntary Social Distancing and the Spread of an Infection

51 Pages Posted: 6 Aug 2020 Last revised: 4 Feb 2023

See all articles by Daron Acemoglu

Daron Acemoglu

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Ali Makhdoumi

Fuqua School of Business; Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Azarakhsh Malekian

University of Toronto - Rotman School of Management; Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Asuman E. Ozdaglar

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Date Written: July 2020

Abstract

We study the effects of testing policy on voluntary social distancing and the spread of an infection. Agents decide their social activity level, which determines a social network over which the virus spreads. Testing enables the isolation of infected individuals, slowing down the infection. But greater testing also reduces voluntary social distancing or increases social activity, exacerbating the spread of the virus. We show that the effect of testing on infections is non-monotone. This non-monotonicity also implies that the optimal testing policy may leave some of the testing capacity of society unused.

Suggested Citation

Acemoglu, Daron and Makhdoumi, Ali and Malekian, Azarakhsh and Ozdaglar, Asuman E., Testing, Voluntary Social Distancing and the Spread of an Infection (July 2020). NBER Working Paper No. w27483, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3667406

Daron Acemoglu (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics ( email )

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Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Ali Makhdoumi

Fuqua School of Business ( email )

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ( email )

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Azarakhsh Malekian

University of Toronto - Rotman School of Management ( email )

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Electrical Engineering and Computer Science ( email )

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Asuman E. Ozdaglar

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science ( email )

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