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NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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The Geographic Spread of COVID-19 Correlates with the Structure of Social Networks as Measured by Facebook

Theresa Kuchler, Dominic Russel, Johannes Stroebel

NBER Working Paper No. 26990
Issued in April 2020, Revised in August 2020
NBER Program(s):Corporate Finance, Economic Fluctuations and Growth, Health Care, Health Economics, International Trade and Investment, Public Economics, Political Economy

We use aggregated data from Facebook to show that COVID-19 was more likely to spread between regions with stronger social network connections. Areas with more social ties to two early COVID-19 “hotspots” (Westchester County, NY, in the U.S. and Lodi province in Italy) generally had more confirmed COVID-19 cases as of the end of March. These relationships hold after controlling for geographic distance to the hotspots as well as for the income and population densities of the regions. As the pandemic progressed in the U.S., a county's social proximity to recent COVID- 19 cases predicts future outbreaks over and above physical proximity. These results suggest data from online social networks can be useful to epidemiologists and others hoping to forecast the spread of communicable diseases such as COVID-19.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w26990

 
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