Photo: Unacast

Cell Phone Data Reveals Which Americans Are Staying at Home and Which Ones Aren’t

News Maps + Infographics
by Eben Diskin Mar 31, 2020

A version of this article was previously published on March 27, 2020, and was updated on March 31, 2020, with more information.

In a world where just about everything is traceable, it does not come as a surprise that Americans’ cell phones are now a great way to track who is self-isolating and social distancing. Unacast, a company that collects and analyzes phone GPS location data, just revealed its “Social Distancing Scoreboard” that shows which residents around the country are actually abiding by the behavior encouraged by health officials.

Unacast compared current location data to data collected on a typical pre-pandemic day, and noted changes in distance traveled, time spent around the house, and activity clusters.

States in which residents are excelling in self-isolating are colored in blue, while those needing the most improvement are colored orange. Each state is given a letter grade ranging from A to F, which can be determined by the state’s coloring. If you delve further into the map, you can browse each state’s specific counties and see how they’ve been graded. An “A” means there has been a more than 40 percent decrease in average distance traveled, a “B” denotes a 30-40 percent decrease, a “C” is a 20-30 percent decrease, a “D” is a 10-20 percent decrease, and “F” indicates a less than 10 percent decrease.

Photo: Unacast

According to data collected from millions of cell phones on March 30, 2020, the states who are doing the best at following social distancing protocol are:

  • District of Columbia
  • Nevada
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Michigan
  • Colorado
  • Vermont
  • California
  • Alaska
  • Rhode Island
  • Washington
  • Connecticut

On the other end of the spectrum, Wyoming is doing the worst in the nation at staying home.

It’s important to note, however, that when it comes to social distancing, all states are not created equal. Sparsely populated states are receiving low social distancing grades from Unacast, but residents of those states often can’t avoid traveling long distances for essential services like grocery stores and pharmacies. While it might seem like people are regularly leaving their homes to travel 30 or 40 minutes, this travel is often necessary and unavoidable, especially compared to city residents who are able to get around easily on foot.

San Francisco — one of the first cities to commit to a full lockdown — is considered to be a bellwether for what the rest of the country can expect from social distancing measures. And there’s some encouraging data coming out of the city. According to doctors and state leaders, San Francisco has been experiencing a flatter curve than expected. Doctors at Bay Area hospitals are reporting fewer cases of COVID-19 than previously estimated by this point, due to the early implementation of social distancing measures.

Similarly encouraging reports are coming out of Washington state, the first US epicenter of the outbreak and one of the first places to enact social distancing measures. Last week, hospitalizations for patients with COVID-19 symptoms declined by over 20 percent. Dr. Douglas Wood, chair of UW Medicine’s surgery department, told The Seattle Times, “We have seen an increase in volume of COVID-19 patients but fortunately at a slower rate than we anticipated, which is great.” According to The New York Times, in Washington, “While each infected person was spreading the virus to an average of 2.7 other people earlier in March, that number appears to have dropped, with one projection suggesting that it was now down to 1.4.”

Visit Unacast’s website to view the interactive map and see how your state is scoring.

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