AbstractThe COVID-19 pandemic affected the world in extraordinary ways. Various measures were taken by state and local governments, including the introduction of stay-at-home orders and closures of nonessential businesses, as well as recommendations related to social distancing and the wearing of face coverings. The rollout of testing and vaccination programs were also key actions aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19. Collectively, these restrictions have resulted in marked changes in travel behavior and patterns throughout the world. In this study, mixed-effects linear regression models are estimated to assess the impacts of COVID-19–related travel restrictions and vaccination rates on daily travel across the United States from January 1, 2020, through August 15, 2021. The results show that daily trips per person were reduced by 15% and 31% in March and April of 2020, respectively, prior to considering the impacts of any government-imposed restrictions. This suggests that government and media coverage of the pandemic played an important role in reducing travel levels. When accounting for the introduction of interventions, ranging from travel advisories to mandatory stay-at-home orders, travel was reduced by an additional 2%–9%. Interestingly, the reductions were less pronounced in areas that strongly supported the Republican candidate in the 2020 presidential election, raising important concerns as to the role of politics and trust in government. Along these same lines, as the duration of mandatory stay-at-home orders increased, travel tended to revert toward prepandemic levels, which may be attributed to quarantine fatigue. Travel levels were also higher among areas with lower median income, as well as those counties that exhibited greater variability in income, illustrating the inequitable impacts of the pandemic on these areas, which tend to include larger proportions of workers in essential industries. The results also show that trip-making increased with vaccination rates, particularly during the early stages of large-scale vaccination programs. Collectively, these insights are important in informing future strategies to mitigate the adverse impacts associated with future outbreaks of new COVID-19 strains and variants.Practical ApplicationsThe results of this study can aid policymakers in developing strategies for future scenarios, such as the emergence of new COVID-19 variants. The results show that stay-at-home orders were highly effective during the early stages of the pandemic. However, it is important to recognize that there is considerable uncertainty as to how the public may respond to such cases moving forward. The effects of travel restrictions tended to dissipate over time, and to this end, an important component of response efforts is the dissemination of information across diverse news and media sources. Interestingly, travel decreased even in the absence of stay-at-home orders, though to a lesser degree, which may be attributable to some combination of media coverage and risk aversion across the population. In addition, messaging should be presented through a coordinated bipartisan effort as there was significant variability in travel among counties with different political inclinations. In particular, adherence to travel restrictions was significantly lower among Republican-leaning counties. Travel also tended to be higher in low-income areas, as well as areas that showed greater income disparities. These are the same areas that have been subjected to the greatest risks of COVID cases and fatalities, highlighting opportunity areas for efforts aimed at curbing future outbreaks.

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