Characterizing collective physical distancing in the U.S. during the first nine months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Publication date: Feb 01, 2024

The COVID-19 pandemic offers an unprecedented natural experiment providing insights into the emergence of collective behavioral changes of both exogenous (government mandated) and endogenous (spontaneous reaction to infection risks) origin. Here, we characterize collective physical distancing-mobility reductions, minimization of contacts, shortening of contact duration-in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the pre-vaccine era by analyzing de-identified, privacy-preserving location data for a panel of over 5. 5 million anonymized, opted-in U. S. devices. We define five indicators of users’ mobility and proximity to investigate how the emerging collective behavior deviates from typical pre-pandemic patterns during the first nine months of the COVID-19 pandemic. We analyze both the dramatic changes due to the government mandated mitigation policies and the more spontaneous societal adaptation into a new (physically distanced) normal in the fall 2020. Using the indicators here defined we show that: a) during the COVID-19 pandemic, collective physical distancing displayed different phases and was heterogeneous across geographies, b) metropolitan areas displayed stronger reductions in mobility and contacts than rural areas; c) stronger reductions in commuting patterns are observed in geographical areas with a higher share of teleworkable jobs; d) commuting volumes during and after the lockdown period negatively correlate with unemployment rates; and e) increases in contact indicators correlate with future values of new deaths at a lag consistent with epidemiological parameters and surveillance reporting delays. In conclusion, this study demonstrates that the framework and indicators here presented can be used to analyze large-scale social distancing phenomena, paving the way for their use in future pandemics to analyze and monitor the effects of pandemic mitigation plans at the national and international levels.

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Concepts Keywords
Covid Analyze
Months Areas
Pandemic Collective
Rural Contacts
Vaccine Covid


Type Source Name
disease MESH COVID-19 pandemic
disease MESH infection
disease VO vaccine
disease MESH unemployment
drug DRUGBANK Stavudine
pathway REACTOME Reproduction
drug DRUGBANK Coenzyme M
disease VO effectiveness
disease VO population
drug DRUGBANK Medical air
disease VO company
disease VO time
disease VO device
disease IDO process
disease MESH educational attainment
disease VO volume
drug DRUGBANK Ciclosporin
drug DRUGBANK Cysteamine
disease IDO contact tracing
disease MESH emergency
disease IDO country
disease VO effective
drug DRUGBANK Methionine
drug DRUGBANK L-Valine
drug DRUGBANK Isoxaflutole
disease VO monthly
disease VO Gap
disease IDO symptom
disease MESH death
drug DRUGBANK Fenamole
drug DRUGBANK Dimercaprol
disease VO USA
drug DRUGBANK L-Isoleucine
disease VO report

Original Article

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