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Interacting Regional Policies in Containing a Disease

SIEPR
Jan 2021
Working Paper
21-004
By  Arun G. Chandrasekhar, Paul Goldsmith-Pinkham, Matthew O. Jackson, Samuel Thau
Regional quarantine policies, in which a portion of a population surrounding infections are locked down, are an important tool to contain disease. However, jurisdictional governments  such as cities, counties, states, and countries — act with minimal coordination across borders. We show that a regional quarantine policy's effectiveness depends upon whether (i) the network of interactions satisfies a balanced-growth condition, (ii) infections have a short delay in detection, and (iii) the government has control over and knowledge of the necessary parts of the network (no leakage of behaviors). As these conditions generally fail to be satisfied, especially when interactions cross borders, we show that substantial improvements are possible if governments are outward-looking and proactive: triggering quarantines in reaction to neighbors' infection rates, in some cases even before infections are detected internally. We also show that even a few lax governments  those that wait for nontrivial internal infection rates before quarantining  impose substantial costs on the whole system. Our results illustrate the importance of understanding contagion across policy borders and offer a starting point in designing proactive policies for decentralized jurisdictions.