Expected Health Effects of Reduced Air Pollution from COVID-19 Social Distancing
The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in stay-at-home policies and other social distancing behaviors in the United States in spring of 2020. This paper examines the impact that these actions had on emissions and expected health effects through reduced personal vehicle travel and electricity consumption. Using daily cell phone mobility data for each U.S. county, we find that vehicle travel dropped about 40% by mid-April across the nation. States that imposed stay-at-home policies before March 28 decreased travel slightly more than other states, but travel in all states decreased significantly. Using data on hourly electricity consumption by electricity region (e.g., balancing authority), we find that electricity consumption fell about six percent on average by mid-April with substantial heterogeneity. Given these decreases in travel and electricity use, we estimate the county-level expected improvements in air quality, and therefore expected declines in mortality. Overall, we estimate that, for a month of social distancing, the expected premature deaths due to air pollution from personal vehicle travel and electricity consumption declined by approximately 360 deaths, or about 25% of the baseline 1500 deaths. In addition, we estimate that CO2 emissions from these sources fell by 46 million metric tons (a reduction of approximately 19%) over the same time frame.
We thank Robert Burnham, Iván Higuera-Mendieta, and Nicholas Taborsky for research assistance. Cicala gratefully acknowledges support from the Political Economics Initiative at the Becker Friedman Institute at the University of Chicago. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Andrew J. Yates
In the last three years, my research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, although this funding was for topics that are unrelated to the subject of this paper.
I declare that I have no other relevant or material financial interests that relate to the research described in this paper.