Impact of public health and social measures on the COVID-19 pandemic in the United states and other countries: Descriptive analysis

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Background: The United States of America has the highest global number of COVID-19 cases and deaths, which may be due in part to delays and inconsistencies in implementing public health and social measures (PHSMs). Objective: In this descriptive analysis, we analyzed the epidemiological evidence for the impact of PHSMs on COVID-19 transmission in the United States and compared these data to those for 10 other countries of varying income levels, population sizes, and geographies. Methods: We compared PHSM implementation timing and stringency against COVID-19 daily case counts in the United States and against those in Canada, China, Ethiopia, Japan, Kazakhstan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe from January 1 to November 25, 2020. We descriptively analyzed the impact of border closures, contact tracing, household confinement, mandated face masks, quarantine and isolation, school closures, limited gatherings, and states of emergency on COVID-19 case counts. We also compared the relationship between global socioeconomic indicators and national pandemic trajectories across the 11 countries. PHSMs and case count data were derived from various surveillance systems, including the Health Intervention Tracking for COVID-19 database, the World Health Organization PHSM database, and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Results: Implementing a specific package of 4 PHSMs (quarantine and isolation, school closures, household confinement, and the limiting of social gatherings) early and stringently was observed to coincide with lower case counts and transmission durations in Vietnam, Zimbabwe, New Zealand, South Korea, Ethiopia, and Kazakhstan. In contrast, the United States implemented few PHSMs stringently or early and did not use this successful package. Across the 11 countries, national income positively correlated (r=0.624) with cumulative COVID-19 incidence. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that early implementation, consistent execution, adequate duration, and high adherence to PHSMs represent key factors of reducing the spread of COVID-19. Although national income may be related to COVID-19 progression, a country’s wealth appears to be less important in controlling the pandemic and more important in taking rapid, centralized, and consistent public health action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere27917
JournalJMIR Public Health and Surveillance
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • COVID-19
  • Descriptive epidemiology
  • Epidemiology
  • Global health
  • Health policy
  • Policy
  • Public health
  • Surveillance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health Informatics
  • Medicine(all)


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