Does Social Isolation Really Curb COVID-19 Deaths? Direct Evidence from Brazil that it Might do the Exact Opposite

15 Pages Posted: 12 Oct 2020

Date Written: October 6, 2020


Objective: To evaluate the association between social isolation, defined as the percentage of individuals who stayed within 450 meters from their usual location or dwelling on a given day, and future COVID-19 deaths in Brazil.

Design: Population study with the observation of both the progression of social isolation and of COVID-19 deaths over time.

Setting: The country of Brazil from 02/01/2020 through 07/22/2020, according to the official epidemiological reports from the Brazilian Ministry of Health regarding the total number of COVID-19 deaths occurring on a given day and to the In Loco© consumer geo-tracking and advertising company regarding social isolation as estimated from mobile phone location data of over 60 million Brazilians. Restrictive measures were first announced in the country in March 13-16th of 2020.

Participants: The 82,241 Brazilians who died from COVID-19 between 03/12/2020 and 07/22/2020 and the over 60 million Brazilian cell phone users whose mobile devices used at least one of the over 600 applications that have incorporated the In Loco© API.

Main Outcome Measure: The number of individuals who died from COVID-19 on a given day (actual date of death, not of reporting).

Results: The degree of social isolation at a given date showed a strong positive correlation to COVID-19 deaths 39 days later (Spearman Rho=.85, p<.001). The number of deaths as a function of social isolation and number of days passed since 02/01/2020 indicated a specific trajectory of deaths over time for every level of social isolation, with more isolation being associated to a higher peak number of deaths, a sooner arrival of that peak and a higher number of accumulated deaths. A comparison between the daily COVID-19 deaths as projected from data before the implementation of restrictive measures in Brazil and the number of deaths actually observed showed that the increase in social isolation can be directly linked to 10.5% more deaths over the period of observation.

Conclusions: There appears to be strong empirical evidence that, in Brazil, the adoption of restrictive measures increasing social isolation have worsened the pandemic in that country instead of mitigating it, likely as a higher-order effect emerging from a combination of factors.

Note: Funding: None.

Conflict of Interest: The authors declare no support from any organization for the submitted work; no financial relationships with any organizations that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous three years, no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.

Ethical Approval: As established by the ethical guidelines for scientific research with human subjects in Article 1, Subsections II, III and V, of Resolution no. 510 from the Brazilian National Council on Health, the present study was exempt from registration or evaluation from the country’s Council of Ethics in Research and National Council of Ethics in Research due to the fact that it used publicly accessible information, public domain information and aggregate databases where individual identification is impossible.

Keywords: COVID-19, Physical Distancing, Social Isolation, Social Distancing, Pandemic, Granger Causality, Brazil

JEL Classification: I18

Suggested Citation

Campello de Souza, Bruno and Campello de Souza, Fernando Menezes, Does Social Isolation Really Curb COVID-19 Deaths? Direct Evidence from Brazil that it Might do the Exact Opposite (October 6, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Bruno Campello de Souza (Contact Author)

UFPE ( email )

Cidade Universitária
Recife, Pernambuco 50670-901

Fernando Menezes Campello de Souza

UFPE ( email )

Cidade Universitária
Cidade Universitária, Pernambuco 50670-901

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