Working Paper

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


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.

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

JEL Classification: R11; I18; H11;

https://doi.org/10.21799/frbp.wp.2020.38

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Bibliographic Information

Provider: Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia

Part of Series: Working Papers

Publication Date: 2020-09-28

Number: 20-38