The United States gets a B for sheltering in place.

Overall, Americans are driving, commuting, and traveling an average of 40% less since February 28. But not all states have changed their behavior in an effort to combat Coronavirus.

One company is mapping how much our movement has changed since the Coronavirus pandemic — and learning that this metric correlates with infection rates.

“We found the change in average distance traveled worked best,” says Thomas Walle, CEO of Unacast. “The more cases are confirmed, the greater the decrease in the average distance traveled on the county level.”

Californians and New Yorkers are driving an average of 48% less. Minnesotans: 46% less. People in Nevada? 51% less. And Texas is driving 43% less. But people in Wyoming haven’t changed their driving behavior at all. And Montana is down just 15%, while Idaho is down 18%.

The data is from Unacast, a location-based data service that can track “tens of millions” of smartphones via “partners” who “contribute location data” in what the company says is a privacy-safe way that does not expose any individual users’ data.

With that data, Unacast has built a social distancing scoreboard that shows which states are taking the Coronavirus problem seriously and changing their behavior. When you move, your smartphone moves with you. Driving or commuting less means a higher score; driving more — or just staying the same — means a lower score.

The top five states, with A grades, are:

  • District of Columbia
  • Alaska
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • Rhode Island

The bottom five states, with C, D, and even an “F” grade for Wyoming, are:

  • Oregon
  • New Mexico
  • Idaho
  • Montana
  • Wyoming

Tennessee, Missouri, and Iowa are also not curtailing activities very significantly, with driving distance down between 27% and 29%.

One caveat, obviously, is that Montana and Wyoming are two of the lowest population density states, where crowding is less likely, and workplaces are more likely to be far away. In addition, the proportion of white-collar jobs that can be done remotely from a computer and WiFi is likely much lower than New York City or San Francisco, for example.

If Unacast is right and the number of infections correlates strongly with the amount of movement of a county’s people, shelter-in-place regulations will work to forestall the spread of Coronavirus … if people obey them.

Other countries like Taiwan and Israel have adopted potentially very privacy-invading ways of not just tracking phones in general, but specific people’s phones as well. For Taiwan this has worked out well in slowing the spread of disease.

But the privacy losses might have longer-term implications.



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