We examine the role of partisanship in engagement in physical distancing following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 in the United States. We use data on daily mobility patterns for US counties along with information on county-level political preferences and the timing of state government leaders’ recommendations for individuals to stay at home. We find that state government leaders’ recommendations were more effective in reducing mobility in Democratic-leaning counties than in Republican-leaning counties. Among Democratic-leaning counties, recommendations from Republican leaders generated larger mobility reductions than recommendations from Democratic leaders. This study highlights the nuanced role of political partisanship in influencing how leaders’ COVID-19 prevention recommendations affect individuals’ voluntary decisions to engage in physical distancing.