What Drives the Effectiveness of Social Distancing in Combating COVID-19 across U.S. States?

54 Pages Posted: 23 Nov 2020

See all articles by Nathan Seegert

Nathan Seegert

University of Utah - Department of Finance

Mu-Jeung Yang

David Eccles School of Business, University of Utah

Maclean Gaulin

University of Utah - David Eccles School of Business

Adam Looney

Brookings Institution; U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Tax Analysis (OTA)

Date Written: May 20, 2020

Abstract

We combine structural estimation with ideas from Machine Learning to estimate a model with information-based voluntary social distancing and state lockdowns to analyze the factors driving the effect of social distancing in mitigating COVID-19. The model allows us to estimate how contagious social interactions are by state and enables us to control for several unobservable, time-varying confounders such as asymptomatic transmission, sample selection in testing and quarantining, and time-varying fatality rates. We find that information-based voluntary social distancing has saved three times as many lives as lockdowns. Second, information policy effects are asymmetric: `least informed' responses would have implied 240,000 more fatalities by June 2020 while `most informed' responses would have saved 25,000 more lives. Third, our estimates suggest that contagion externalities from social interactions are large enough that a lockdown response could have been 25\% less costly for the median state and still saved an equivalent number of lives.

Keywords: COVID-19, voluntary social distancing, super-spreading events, public information disclosure

JEL Classification: I15, I18, J68

Suggested Citation

Seegert, Nathan and Yang, Mu-Jeung and Gaulin, Maclean and Looney, Adam, What Drives the Effectiveness of Social Distancing in Combating COVID-19 across U.S. States? (May 20, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3734452 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3734452

Nathan Seegert (Contact Author)

University of Utah - Department of Finance ( email )

David Eccles School of Business
Salt Lake City, UT 84112
United States

Mu-Jeung Yang

David Eccles School of Business, University of Utah

Maclean Gaulin

University of Utah - David Eccles School of Business ( email )

1645 E Campus Center Dr
Salt Lake City, UT 84112-9303
United States
801.585.0324 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://mgaulin.com

Adam Looney

Brookings Institution ( email )

1775 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, DC 20036
United States
2027976068 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.brookings.edu/experts/looneya.aspx

U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Tax Analysis (OTA) ( email )

1500 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20220
United States

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