Monday, April 27, 2020

Anonymized county-level cellphone data shows a drop in social distancing in recent weeks

Screenshot from MTI database shows county-by-county social-
distancing index for April 24. Click on the image to enlarge it.
Using anonymized cellphone data, researchers in the Maryland Transportation Institute at the University of Maryland have assembled a state- and county-level picture of the nation's social-distancing habits, and how those have changed over time. View the database here.

The interactive database allows users to view results by an overall social distancing index, the percentage of people staying home, the number of trips per person (both work trips and non-work trips), the percentage of out-of-county trips, and the miles traveled per person.

Each variable can be viewed over time; that insulates the data from making rural residents appear less compliant with social distancing than they actually are simply because they often have to drive further away to access work or groceries. 

However, the data show that social distancing is decreasing in some states and counties over time, even as covid-19 cases increase. Some people are worried about the economy, and some are simply tired of staying home, Katherine Shaver reports for The Washington Post

"We saw something we hoped wasn’t happening, but it’s there," Lei Zhang, lead researcher and MTI director told Shaver. "It seems collectively we’re getting a little tired. It looks like people are loosening up on their own to travel more."

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