Much attention on the spread and impact of the ongoing pandemic has focused on institutional factors such as government capacity along with population-level characteristics such as race, income, and age. This paper draws on a growing body of evidence that bonding, bridging, and linking social capital – the horizontal and vertical ties that bind societies together – impact public health to explain why some U.S. counties have seen higher (or lower) excess deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic than others. Drawing on county-level reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) since February 2020, we calculated the number of excess deaths per county compared to 2018. Starting with a panel dataset of county observations over time, we used coarsened exact matching to create smaller but more similar sets of communities that differ primarily in social capital. Controlling for several factors, including politics and governance, health care quality, and demographic characteristics, we find that bonding and linking social capital reduce the toll of COVID-19 on communities. Public health officials and community organizations should prioritize building and maintaining strong social ties and trust in government to help combat the pandemic.

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About Daniel Aldrich

Daniel Aldrich is professor and director of the Security and Resilience Program at Northeastern University. He has published five books, more than fifty peer reviewed articles, and written op-eds for The New York Times, CNN, Asahi Shinbun, along with appearing on popular media outlets such as CNBC, MSNBC, NPR, and HuffPost. His research has been funded by the Fulbright Foundation, the Abe Foundation, and the National Science Foundation, and he has carried out more than five years of fieldwork in Japan, India, Africa, and the Gulf Coast.