Measuring sensitivity to social distancing behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic

Constantine E. Kontokosta, Boyeong Hong, Bartosz J. Bonczak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social distancing remains an effective nonpharmaceutical behavioral interventions to limit the spread of COVID-19 and other airborne diseases, but monitoring and enforcement create nontrivial challenges. Several jurisdictions have turned to “311” resident complaint platforms to engage the public in reporting social distancing non-compliance, but differences in sensitivity to social distancing behaviors can lead to a mis-allocation of resources and increased health risks for vulnerable communities. Using hourly visit data to designated establishments and more than 71,000 social distancing complaints in New York City during the first wave of the pandemic, we develop a method, derived from the Weber-Fechner law, to quantify neighborhood sensitivity and assess how tolerance to social distancing infractions and complaint reporting behaviors vary with neighborhood characteristics. We find that sensitivity to non-compliance is lower in minority and low-income neighborhoods, as well as in lower density areas, resulting in fewer reported complaints than expected given measured levels of overcrowding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number16350
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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