Working Papers

2020-23 | July 2020


Weather, Social Distancing, and the Spread of COVID-19


Using high-frequency panel data for U.S. counties, I estimate the full dynamic response of COVID-19 cases and deaths to exogenous movements in mobility and weather. I find several important results. First, holding mobility fixed, temperature is found to have a negative and significant effect on COVID-19 cases from 1 to 8 weeks ahead and on deaths from 2 to 8 weeks ahead. Second, holding weather fixed, mobility is found to have a large positive effect on subsequent growth in COVID-19 cases and deaths. The impact on cases becomes significant 3 to 4 weeks ahead and continues through 8 to 10 weeks ahead. The impact on deaths becomes significant around 4 weeks ahead and persists for at least 10 weeks. Third, I find that the deleterious effects of mobility on COVID-19 outcomes are far greater when the local virus transmission rate is above one - evidence supportive of public health policies aiming to reduce mobility specifically in places experiencing high transmission rates while relaxing restrictions elsewhere. Fourth, I find that the dynamic effects of mobility on cases are generally similar across counties, but the effects on deaths are higher for counties with older populations and, surprisingly, counties with lower black or hispanic population shares. Lastly, I find that while the marginal impact of mobility changes has been stable over recent weeks for cases, it has come down for deaths.

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Article Citation

Wilson, Daniel J. 2020. "Weather, Social Distancing, and the Spread of COVID-19," Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco Working Paper 2020-23. Available at