Observed mobility behavior data reveal social distancing inertia

04/30/2020
by   Sepehr Ghader, et al.
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The research team has utilized an integrated dataset, consisting of anonymized location data, COVID-19 case data, and census population information, to study the impact of COVID-19 on human mobility. The study revealed that statistics related to social distancing, namely trip rate, miles traveled per person, and percentage of population staying at home have all showed an unexpected trend, which we named social distancing inertia. The trends showed that as soon as COVID-19 cases were observed, the statistics started improving, regardless of government actions. This suggests that a portion of population who could and were willing to practice social distancing voluntarily and naturally reacted to the emergence of COVID-19 cases. However, after about two weeks, the statistics saturated and stopped improving, despite the continuous rise in COVID-19 cases. The study suggests that there is a natural behavior inertia toward social distancing, which puts a limit on the extent of improvement in the social-distancing-related statistics. The national data showed that the inertia phenomenon is universal, happening in all the U.S. states and for all the studied statistics. The U.S. states showed a synchronized trend, regardless of the timeline of their statewide COVID-19 case spreads or government orders.

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