Assessing the Causal Impact of COVID-19 Related Policies on Outbreak Dynamics: A Case Study in the US

by   Jing Ma, et al.

To mitigate the spread of COVID-19 pandemic, decision-makers and public authorities have announced various non-pharmaceutical policies. Analyzing the causal impact of these policies in reducing the spread of COVID-19 is important for future policy-making. The main challenge here is the existence of unobserved confounders (e.g., vigilance of residents). Besides, as the confounders may be time-varying during COVID-19 (e.g., vigilance of residents changes in the course of the pandemic), it is even more difficult to capture them. In this paper, we study the problem of assessing the causal effects of different COVID-19 related policies on the outbreak dynamics in different counties at any given time period. To this end, we integrate data about different COVID-19 related policies (treatment) and outbreak dynamics (outcome) for different United States counties over time and analyze them with respect to variables that can infer the confounders, including the covariates of different counties, their relational information and historical information. Based on these data, we develop a neural network based causal effect estimation framework which leverages above information in observational data and learns the representations of time-varying (unobserved) confounders. In this way, it enables us to quantify the causal impact of policies at different granularities, ranging from a category of policies with a certain goal to a specific policy type in this category. Besides, experimental results also indicate the effectiveness of our proposed framework in capturing the confounders for quantifying the causal impact of different policies. More specifically, compared with several baseline methods, our framework captures the outbreak dynamics more accurately, and our assessment of policies is more consistent with existing epidemiological studies of COVID-19.


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