Efficient social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic: Integrating economic and public health considerations

Kexin Chen, Chi Seng Pun, Hoi Ying Wong

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Although social distancing can effectively contain the spread of infectious diseases by reducing social interactions, it may have economic effects. Crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic create dilemmas for policymakers because the long-term implementation of restrictive social distancing policies may cause massive economic damage and ultimately harm healthcare systems. This paper proposes an epidemic control framework that policymakers can use as a data-driven decision support tool for setting efficient social distancing targets. The framework addresses three aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic that are related to social distancing or community mobility data: modeling, financial implications, and policy-making. Thus, we explore the COVID-19 pandemic and concurrent economic situation as functions of historical pandemic data and mobility control. This approach allows us to formulate an efficient social distancing policy as a stochastic feedback control problem that minimizes the aggregated risks of disease transmission and economic volatility. We further demonstrate the use of a deep learning algorithm to solve this control problem. Finally, by applying our framework to U.S. data, we empirically examine the efficiency of the U.S. social distancing policy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalEuropean Journal of Operational Research
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 6 Nov 2021


  • Deep learning
  • Economic modeling
  • Google mobility indices
  • OR in health services
  • Stochastic controls
  • Stochastic SIRD model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science(all)
  • Modelling and Simulation
  • Management Science and Operations Research
  • Information Systems and Management


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