As public health officials urge communities to practice social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19, how seriously are communities following state and local governments’ stay-at-home orders?
Data collected from smartphones could help shed light on how well residents in specific counties and states are practicing social distancing.
Unacast Inc., a company that collects and analyzes GPS phone location data, released a Social Distancing Scoreboard, an interactive map breaking down “grades” for states and counties based on how residents seem to be changing their behavior. The grades rely on cellphone movements.
The data, most recently tabulated Saturday and compared with an average day before the COVID-19 outbreak, uses the decrease in total distance traveled as a rough estimate for whether residents are following social-distancing principles. Each state and county is given a letter grade.
Colorado, as of Tuesday afternoon, had an A rating, with an overall state decline of 41% in average distance traveled, according to Unacast’s data. At the time of the data collection, the state had 474 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Five of the highest-rated counties in the state that saw the biggest changes in average distance traveled by its residents were Cheyenne, Kiowa, Pitkin, Summit and Gunnison.
Summit, Pitkin and Gunnison counties reported 10, 18 and 40 positive cases, respectively, as of Tuesday evening, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The state as a whole was reporting 912 positive cases.
As the virus continues to spread, counties and local governments have begun issuing stronger social-distancing policies.
On Monday, San Juan County issued a shelter-in-place order, and residents were asked to limit trips out of Silverton. San Juan Basin Public Health also issued a stay-at-home advisory Monday for La Plata and Archuleta counties shortly after the first positive case in the region was reported.
La Plata County, which had its first confirmed case Monday, had a B rating, with a 32% change in average distance traveled. Archuleta County, which reported zero cases as of Tuesday, scored an A, with residents changing their average distance traveled by 75%. Montezuma County, with zero reported cases as of Tuesday, saw only a 20% change in average distance traveled, resulting in a D score.
New Mexico had a C rating, with an overall decrease of 24% in average distance traveled by residents. San Juan County, which reported its first positive case on Saturday, has a B rating. The county saw a 31% change in the average distance traveled by residents, according to Unacast’s data.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a stay-at-home order and closed non-essential businesses Monday afternoon, two days after the Unacast data was compiled. As of Tuesday afternoon, the state had reported 100 positive cases of COVID-19. Four new cases were reported in San Juan County, bringing the county’s total to seven.
Unacast’s location data is collected from games, shopping and utility apps downloaded and installed on phones around the world. The company, which normally analyzes the data for businesses, has started to use it for public health efforts around COVID-19.