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Weather, Social Distancing, and the Spread of COVID-19


  • Daniel J. Wilson


Using high-frequency panel data for U.S. counties, I estimate the full dynamic response of COVID-19 cases and deaths to exogenous movements in mobility and weather. I find several important results. First, weather and mobility are highly correlated and thus omitting either factor when studying the COVID-19 effects of the other is likely to result in substantial omitted variable bias. Second, temperature is found to have a negative and significant effect on future COVID-19 cases and deaths, though the estimated effect is sensitive to which measure of mobility is included in the regression. Third, controlling for weather, overall mobility is found to have a large positive effect on subsequent growth in COVID-19 cases and deaths. The effects become significant around 2 weeks ahead and persist through around 8 weeks ahead for cases and around 9 weeks ahead for deaths. The peak impact occurs 4 to 6 weeks ahead for cases and around 8 to 9 weeks ahead for deaths. The effects are largest for mobility measured by time spent away from home and time spent at work, though significant effects also are found for time spent at retail and recreation establishments, at transit stations, at grocery stores and pharmacies, and at parks. Fourth, I find that public health non-pharmaceutical interventions affect future COVID-19 cases and deaths, but that their effects work entirely through, and not independent of, individuals' mobility behavior. Lastly, the dynamic effects of mobility on COVID 19 outcomes are found to be generally similar across counties, though there is evidence of larger effects in counties with high cases per capita and that reduced mobility relatively late.

Suggested Citation

  • Daniel J. Wilson, 2020. "Weather, Social Distancing, and the Spread of COVID-19," Working Paper Series 2020-23, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedfwp:88334
    DOI: 10.24148/wp2020-23

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    RePEc Biblio mentions

    As found on the RePEc Biblio, the curated bibliography for Economics:
    1. > Economics of Welfare > Health Economics > Economics of Pandemics > Specific pandemics > Covid-19 > Health > Distancing and Lockdown


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    Cited by:

    1. Mangrum, Daniel & Niekamp, Paul, 2022. "JUE Insight: College student travel contributed to local COVID-19 spread," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 127(C).
    2. Cooper, Daniel & Garga, Vaishali & Luengo-Prado, María José & Tang, Jenny, 2023. "The mitigating effect of masks on the spread of Covid-19," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 48(C).
    3. Brinkman, Jeffrey & Mangum, Kyle, 2022. "JUE Insight: The Geography of Travel Behavior in the Early Phase of the COVID-19 Pandemic," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 127(C).
    4. Couture, Victor & Dingel, Jonathan I. & Green, Allison & Handbury, Jessie & Williams, Kevin R., 2022. "JUE Insight: Measuring movement and social contact with smartphone data: a real-time application to COVID-19," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 127(C).
    5. Coven, Joshua & Gupta, Arpit & Yao, Iris, 2023. "JUE Insight: Urban flight seeded the COVID-19 pandemic across the United States," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 133(C).
    6. Myrto Kasioumi & Thanasis Stengos, 2022. "The Effect of Pollution on the Spread of COVID-19 in Europe," Economics of Disasters and Climate Change, Springer, vol. 6(1), pages 129-140, March.
    7. Umut Akovali & Kamil Yilmaz, 2020. "Polarized Politics of Pandemic Response and the Covid-19 Connectedness Across the U.S. States," Koç University-TUSIAD Economic Research Forum Working Papers 2019, Koc University-TUSIAD Economic Research Forum.

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    weather; mobility; social distancing; covid-19;
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