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The Geography of Travel Behavior in the Early Phase of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Author

Listed:
  • Jeffrey Brinkman
  • Kyle Mangum

Abstract

We use a panel of county-level location data derived from cellular devices in the U.S. to track travel behavior and its relationship with COVID-19 cases in the early stages of the outbreak. We find that travel activity dropped significantly as case counts rose locally. People traveled less overall, and they specifically avoided areas with relatively larger outbreaks, independent of government restrictions on mobility. The drop in activity limited exposure to out-of-county virus cases, which we show was important because such case exposure generated new cases inside a county. This suggests the outbreak would have spread faster and to a greater degree had travel activity not dropped accordingly. Our findings imply that the scale and geographic network of travel activity and the travel response of individuals are important for understanding the spread of COVID-19 and for policies that seek to control it.

Suggested Citation

  • Jeffrey Brinkman & Kyle Mangum, 2020. "The Geography of Travel Behavior in the Early Phase of the COVID-19 Pandemic," Working Papers 20-38, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedpwp:88960
    DOI: 10.21799/frbp.wp.2020.38
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    File URL: https://www.philadelphiafed.org/-/media/frbp/assets/working-papers/2020/wp20-38.pdf
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    travel behavior; mobility; COVID-19 pandemic; spatial dynamics; spacial networks; cellular device location;

    JEL classification:

    • R11 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Regional Economic Activity: Growth, Development, Environmental Issues, and Changes
    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • H11 - Public Economics - - Structure and Scope of Government - - - Structure and Scope of Government

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