As NBC News reports,marketing analytics firmCuebiq took a look at anonymous cell phone location information from more than 15 million phones across the United States. The data from that analysis shows that in many areas people are continuing to follow social distancing guidelines. The rate of nearness, as measured by Cuebiq, remains only about half what it was in February on a national level. This isgreat news in terms of slowing the spread of the coronavirus.Nationally, the level of both travel and contact between people is still measurably lower than it was before the pandemic.
However, in other areas people are moving around more than they were during the early weeks of the outbreak. And theyre not just moving aroundtheyre getting together. And, in an amazing 450 counties, the contact numbers are either at, or exceeding, where they were pre-coronavirus.
Its not surprising that some people are confused about the danger posed by the disease. Not only has Donald Trump been encouraging states to place economic concerns over public health; right-wing news sites from Fox and OANN to the vast network of conservative radio shows have been continuing to push the idea that COVID-19 is less dangerous than we thought, that increasing numbers are just an artifact of more testing, and COVID-19 is on its way out. A statement from a WHO official last week has been widely misreported as statingthat you cant catch COVID-19 from someone unless theyre clearly illwhich has led to pundits all over the right side of the dial insisting that there was never any need to shut down the economy. Republican politicians and right-wing media are even pushing the idea that its more dangerous to continue social distancing than it is to just pretend that COVID-19 isnt there. Because reasons.
That message isnt just being heard by people who normally consider themselves Trump followers. Its being embraced in blue areas by people who are simply tired of being at home.
TheCuebiq data shows a gradual and significant decline in contacts throughout March as people became aware of the pandemic and the first state and local lockdowns went into effect. But as early as April, data from Apple Maps showed that the amount of travel and contacts had begunto rise. That was particularly true in someareasincludingCorpus Christi, Texas; Virginia Beach, Virginia; Bakersfield, California; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Toledo, Ohio; and Memphis, Tennessee. Not surprisingly, these are some of the same areas where the number of cases has been increasing for weeks.
Cuebiqs data shows the rate of travel and contact is continuing to rise. That includes a rise in contact levels in Los Angeles, Miami, and even an increase in hard-hit Manhattan.Some areas are actually showing levels of contact above those inFebruary. That includes Camden County,Missourihome to that much-photographed Lake of the Ozarks pool party. It also includes coastal counties,particularly in the Carolinas and theFlorida panhandle.
The good news out of all this is that many areas still show contact levels well below those pre-epidemic. The Bay Area of California has contact levels 60% below those in February. So does the original hot spot in King County, Washington. Many citiesfrom Salt Lake to St. Louis to Chicago to New Orleansare showing contact levels down by 40%-60% from normal. All this is important in pushing the rate of transmission in the SARS-CoV-2 virus down from 2.4 to the <1.0 needed to force the pandemic to its end.
But the 450 counties where people are either approaching, or exceeding, the level of contact in February are invitations to create even more hot spots in a fire that has definitely not gone out. And not all of these counties are either sparsely populated or remote. Many contain medium to large cities, or are suburban counties around those cities. Thisis why cities like Dallasare experiencing abrupt increases that are threatening hospital and ICU capacity. This is not just a second wave that will be restricted to rural counties and states that got off easy during the initial weeks of the pandemic. Nowhere in the nationNew York includedhas seen enough of the population infected to significantly slow additional cases. Social distancing remains the only option until a vaccine or effective treatment is availableand both of those are, at best, months away.
Stay home when you can. Wear a mask when you cant. Stay as safe as possible.