Research / BFI Working PaperApr 17, 2020

Coordination and Social Distancing: Inertia in the Aggregate Response to COVID-19

Mehdi Shadmehr, Ethan Bueno de Mesquita

Social distancing which is critical for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 has been slow and inadequate. Applying the literature on beauty contest models, we show: (1) When a new and rare virus, like COVID-19, emerges, the aggregate level of social distancing has inherent inertia; (2) Clear national public statements are essential in reducing that inertia and adjusting the public’s behavior to the new, optimal level of social distancing; (3) National communication is better than local communication when optimal social distancing levels are highly correlated over-time and when individuals are poorly-informed.