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We investigate why some communities experience worse COVID-19 outcomes than others. Past studies have linked the resilience of communities against crisis to social vulnerability and the capacity of local governments to provide public goods and services like health care. Disaster studies, which frequently examine the effect of social ties and mobility, may better help illuminate the current spread of COVID-19. We analyze Japan’s 47 prefectures from February 12 to August 31 using 62,722 individual confirmed cases of COVID-19, paired with daily tallies of aggregate Facebook user movement among neighborhoods. Controlling for mobility levels, health care systems, government finance, gender balance, age, income, and education levels of communities, our analysis indicates that areas with strong linking social ties see no or far lower levels of COVID-19 case rates initially. However, case fatality rates rise in such communities once the disease enters as they lack horizontal (bonding) ties which can mitigate its health impacts. We anticipate this study to be a starting point for broader studies of how social ties and mobility influence COVID-19 outcomes worldwide along with shining a light on how different types of social relationships play different roles as a crisis or disaster progresses.


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