COVID-19 Risk Perceptions and Social Distancing Practice in Latin America

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date




Many developing countries use social distancing as part of their mitigation strategy during epidemics. This study aimed to understand individual decisions to practice different social distancing measures in the immediate emergence of COVID-19.

Study design:

Utilizing social media advertising and snowball sampling, a web-based survey was administered in 16 Latin American countries.


We estimated seemingly unrelated Probit models to identify factors associated with the decision to implement social distancing practices.


From 5,480 respondents, estimated marginal effects indicate that risk perceptions are positively related to distancing from friends or relatives and avoiding public places but do not seem to influence the decision to stay home. Results also indicate that risk perceptions are related to household income, the number of reported COVID-19 cases in the country, and perceived preparedness of the health care system.


Our findings support the notion that people will follow social distancing measures if there is a clear understanding of risk. Providing the public ways to access accurate numbers of confirmed cases can inform perception of disease severity. Since household income was a determinant of practicing social distancing, without financial assistance, some will be forced to break regulations in order to procure food or resources for their survival.


Published online 2021 Jan 12.

PMID: 33432821