University of Maryland study shows downward trend in social distancing across the country

Are Virginians Social Distancing?

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - According to the latest numbers in a study released by the University of Maryland, there has been a nationwide negative trend of people’s social distancing.

The study is known as the COVID-19 Impact Analysis Platform where researchers collect data using the anonymized aggregated location data from cellphones to track where and how frequently individuals are traveling on a county and statewide level across the nation.

Researchers also track how many people travel between states, how many people go to individual counties from out of state or out of the county because these out of town trips tend to also bring viruses to new communities. When these factors are all taken into account, a measure known as the social distance index can be calculated from 0-100 and assigned to each state.

Experts say that while there was an initial spike in the number of people social distancing, fewer people are cooperating with guidelines as states find a balance between enforcing restrictions and reopening for business.

“Our empirical studies show that there are a close correlation and relationship between the social distancing index based on the mobility metrics and the spikes of new COVID cases we are observing in each region,” said associate researcher Aref Darzi. “Over the past two months, we’ve noticed a slow and decreasing trend in social distancing across the United States.”

“In the last week of June, we were getting close to the pre-pandemic conditions in terms of the social distancing index,” Darzi continued.

Since researchers at MDU began collecting data on social distancing as it relates to COVID-19 cases per state, Washington D.C. has always been the highest-rated when compared to the other 50 states with a social distance index of 61 as of July 25, 2020, but Darzi says there are other localities that have performed better as well.

“Falls Church City and Arlington County were on top with a score 62 and 57 respectively while Madison County and Lee County with the lowest score with an index with a score of 14 and 16 respectively,” said Darzi.

Back in May, Virginia tied four other states at 11th place with a social distance score of 45. As of Saturday, the commonwealth has improved to 10th place overall along with 10 other states but the social distance score has dropped to 30. The city of Richmond was ranked 11th when compared to other cities and counties in the state with a score of 38.

But as of the end of July, Darzi says the data across the country are suggesting that states are cracking down on enforcing social distance measures. The Hampton Roads area will see tighter restriction starting this weekend as per Northam to limit it’s spread there.

“The best policy is to stay ahead of the curve when you see numbers trending up and I’ll continue to do that every day,” said Northam.

“The trend in July makes us hopeful again so it seems that the decreasing trend is getting stopped and people are social distancing more,” said Darzi.

Researchers at MDU hope to learn from this kind of mobility data quickly and combine this kind of data with health data to really provide more comprehensive timely and effective decision making for our leaders.

If you would like to see a further breakdown of the numbers state by state in the study click HERE.

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