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

Jeffrey Brinkman and Kyle Mangum

Journal of Urban Economics, 2022, vol. 127, issue C

Abstract: We use U.S. county-level location data derived from smartphones to examine travel behavior and its relationship with COVID-19 cases in the early stages of the outbreak. People traveled less overall and notably avoided areas with relatively larger outbreaks. A doubling of new cases in a county led to a 3 to 4 percent decrease in trips to and from that county. Without this change in travel activity, exposure to out-of-county virus cases could have been twice as high at the end of April 2020. Limiting travel-induced exposure was important because such exposure generated new cases locally. We find a one percent increase in case exposure from travel led to a 0.21 percent increase in new cases added within 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.

Keywords: Travel behavior; Mobility; COVID-19 pandemic; Spatial dynamics; Spatial networks; Smartphone location (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: H11 I18 R11 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2022
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Persistent link: https://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:eee:juecon:v:127:y:2022:i:c:s0094119021000668

DOI: 10.1016/j.jue.2021.103384

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