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Controlling Epidemic Spread: Reducing Economic Losses with Targeted Closures

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    January 27, 2022
    15:00 - 16:00

Abstract: Data on population movements can be helpful in designing targeted policy responses to curb epidemic spread. However, it is not clear how to exactly leverage such data and how valuable they might be for the control of epidemics. To explore these questions, we study a spatial epidemic model that explicitly accounts for population movements and propose an optimization framework for obtaining targeted policies that restrict economic activity in different neighborhoods of a city at different levels. We focus on COVID-19 and calibrate our model using the mobile phone data that capture individuals’ movements within New York City (NYC). We use these data to illustrate that targeting can allow for substantially higher employment levels than uniform (city-wide) policies when applied to reduce infections across a region of focus. In our NYC example (which focuses on the control of the disease in April 2020), our main model illustrates that appropriate targeting achieves a reduction in infections in all neighborhoods while resuming 23.1%–42.4% of the baseline nonteleworkable employment level. By contrast, uniform restriction policies that achieve the same policy goal permit 3.92–6.25 times less nonteleworkable employment. Our optimization framework demonstrates the potential of targeting to limit the economic costs of unemployment while curbing the spread of an epidemic. Joint with John R. Birge and Yiding Feng.