Spatial spillover and COVID-19 spread in the U.S.

Document Type


Publication Date



Background: This research estimates the effects of vulnerability on the spread of COVID-19 cases across U.S. counties. Vulnerability factors (Socioeconomic Status, Minority Status & Language, Housing type, Transportation, Household Composition & Disability, Epidemiological Factors, Healthcare system Factors, High-risk Environments, and Population density) do not only influence an individual’s likelihood of getting infected but also influence the likelihood of his/her neighbors getting infected. Thus, spatial interactions occurring among individuals are likely to lead to spillover effects which may cause further virus transmission. Methods: This research uses the COVID-19 community index (CCVI), which defines communities likely vulnerable to the impact of the pandemic and captures the multi-dimensionality of vulnerability. The spatial Durbin model was used to estimate the spillover effects of vulnerability to COVID-19 in U.S. counties, from May 1 to December 15, 2020. Results: The findings confirm the existence of spatial spillover effects; with indirect effects (from neighboring counties) dominating the direct effects (from county-own vulnerability level). This not only validates social distancing as a strategy to contain the spread of the pandemic but also calls for comprehensive and coordinated approach to fight its effects. By keeping vulnerability factors constant but varying the number of reported infected cases every 2 weeks, we found that marginal effects of vulnerability vary significantly across counties. This might be the reflection of both the changing intensity of the pandemic itself but also the lack of consistency in the measures implemented to combat it. Conclusion: Overall, the results indicate that high vulnerability in Minority, Epidemiological factors, Healthcare System Factors, and High-Risk Environments in each county and adjacent counties leads to an increase in COVID-19 confirmed cases.