Stanford University


Rationing Social Contact During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Transmission Risk and Social Benefits of US Locations

Christos Nicolaides

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
June 30, 2020

Show buttons

To prevent the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), some types of public spaces have been shut down while others remain open. These decisions constitute a judgment about the relative danger and benefits of those locations.

Using mobility data from a large sample of smartphones, nationally representative consumer preference surveys, and economic statistics, we measure the relative transmission reduction benefit and social cost of closing 26 categories of US locations. Our categories include types of shops, entertainment, and service providers. We rank categories by their trade-off of social benefits and transmission risk via dominance across 13 dimensions of risk and importance and through composite indexes.

We find that, from February to March 2020, there were larger declines in visits to locations that our measures indicate should be closed first.

Stanford University