Socio-economic disparities in social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States : an observational study.


Eliminating disparities in the burden of COVID-19 requires equitable access to control measures across socio-economic groups. Limited research on socio-economic differences in mobility hampers our ability to understand whether inequalities in social distancing are occurring during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.

We used anonymized mobility data from tens of millions of devices to measure the speed and depth of social distancing at the county level between February and May 2020, the period during which social distancing was widespread in the U.S. Using linear mixed models, we assessed the associations between social distancing and socio-economic variables, including the proportion of people below the poverty level, the proportion of Black people, the proportion of essential workers, and the population density.

We aim to assess how mobility patterns have varied across the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic, and identify associations with socio-economic factors of populations.

We find that the speed, depth, and duration of social distancing in the United States is heterogeneous. We particularly show that social distancing is slower and less intense in counties with higher proportions of people below the poverty level and essential workers; and in contrast, that social distancing is intense in counties with higher population densities and larger Black populations.

Socio-economic inequalities appear to be associated with the levels of adoption of social distancing, potentially resulting in wide-ranging differences in the impact of COVID-19 in communities across the United States. This is likely to amplify existing health disparities, and needs to be addressed to ensure the success of ongoing pandemic mitigation efforts.

MIDAS Network Members

Shweta Bansal

Provost’s Distinguished Associate Professor of Biology
Georgetown University