COVID Cabin Fever: Travel Uptick Detected as Curve Flattens
An analysis of smartphone location data since mid-March reveals an outbreak of what’s been described as COVID-induced “quarantine fatigue.”
University of Maryland researchers studying how social distancing and shelter-in-place orders are affecting travel patterns and the spread of the novel coronavirus reported an uptick in U.S. travel during the week of April 13. The university’s COVID Impact Analysis Platform tracks smartphone location data to determine metrics such as the percentage of resident in each state that stay home, number of trips per person and miles traveled.
It then comes up with an index that reveals the extent to which residents and visitors are practicing social distancing. A related policy index links social distancing to COVID-19 cases, and is used as a guide for imposing and lifting social distancing rules.
The researchers reported in mid-April that shelter-in-place compliance remains low, prompting growing concerns about whether a viral form of cabin fever has set in across the nation. “The percentage of people staying home nationwide increased from 20 percent to 35 percent at the onset of COVID-19 in mid-March but then stagnated at 35 percent for three weeks, despite skyrocketing new COVID-19 cases,” they said.
The stay-at-home figure dropped to 31 percent by April 17. Those declines followed about six weeks of steady or increasing compliance. Given the size of the data set, the university researchers said any minor change is statistically significant.
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