The Efficiency of US Public Space Utilization During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Risk Analysis, Forthcoming

20 Pages Posted: 1 Feb 2021 Last revised: 22 Jul 2021

See all articles by Seth Benzell

Seth Benzell

Chapman University - The George L. Argyros School of Business & Economics; MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy; Stanford University, Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence Digital Economy Lab

Avinash Collis

University of Texas at Austin - Red McCombs School of Business

Christos Nicolaides

School of Economics and Management, University of Cyprus; Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management

Date Written: January 27, 2021

Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic has called for and generated massive novel government regulations to increase social distancing for the purpose of reducing disease transmission. A number of studies have attempted to guide and measure the effectiveness of these policies, but there has been less focus on the overall efficiency of these policies. Efficient social distancing requires implementing stricter restrictions during periods of high viral prevalence and rationing social contact to disproportionately preserve gatherings that produce a good ratio of benefits to transmission risk. To evaluate whether US social distancing policy actually produced an efficient social distancing regime, we tracked consumer preferences for, visits to, and crowding in public locations of 26 different types. We show that the US’s rationing of public spaces, post-spring 2020, has failed to achieve efficiency along either dimension. In April 2020 the US did achieve notable decreases in visits to public spaces and focused these reductions in locations that offer poor benefit-to-risk trade-offs. However, this achievement was marred by an increase, from March to April, in crowding at remaining locations due to fewer locations remaining open. In December 2020, at the height of the pandemic so far, crowding in and total visits to locations were higher than in February, before the US pandemic, and these increases were concentrated in locations with the worst value-to-risk tradeoff.

Keywords: COVID-19; social contact; transmission risk; social welfare; non-pharmaceutical interventions

Suggested Citation

Benzell, Seth and Collis, Avinash and Nicolaides, Christos, The Efficiency of US Public Space Utilization During the COVID-19 Pandemic (January 27, 2021). Risk Analysis, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3774478 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3774478

Seth Benzell

Chapman University - The George L. Argyros School of Business & Economics ( email )

333 N. Glassell
Orange, CA 92866
United States

MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy ( email )

245 First Street
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States

Stanford University, Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence Digital Economy Lab ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Avinash Collis

University of Texas at Austin - Red McCombs School of Business ( email )

Austin, TX
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.avinash.info

Christos Nicolaides (Contact Author)

School of Economics and Management, University of Cyprus

1 Panepistimiou
Aglantzia CY-2109, 2109
Cyprus

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management ( email )

100 Main Street
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States

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