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Data show county on par with state in social distancing efforts

With guidance from local, state and federal government to implement social distancing measures because of the potentially deadly coronavirus outbreak, two agencies have been tracking how well Americans are doing at complying.

The research is based on anonymous cellphone data aggregated into two sets of data — one is a study by Google and SafeGraph, the other is an interactive database compiled by The University of Maryland and the Maryland Transportation Institute.

The Washington Post recently published an analysis of the Google and SafeGraph data, which indicates that, as of the week ending April 30, the last date for which data is available, Americans were spending 89 percent of their time at home. That’s a slight decrease from the peak of social distancing in the U.S., which happened April 7, when Americans were spending 93 percent of their time at home.

For the week ending April 30, Jessamine Countians were staying home 88 percent of the time, more than most neighboring counties, according to the research. Rates in neighboring counties were 85 percent in Fayette, 85 percent in Madison, 85 percent in Garrard, 86 percent in Mercer and 89 percent in Woodford. 

According to The Post’s analysis, the rates of social distancing vary by geography.

“People in some counties appear to barely leave their homes, especially in large metro areas, including hard-hit New York, Detroit and Chicago. People in areas that are less populated tend to leave a bit more,” The Post found in its analysis.

“In general, people in rural areas are away more than people in urban and suburban areas, in large part because stores, services and essential workplaces are much farther away and delivery services are rare or nonexistent. But the trend lines are very similar across all types of places.”

SafeGraph determines when people are home by obtaining GPS data through pings from smartphones running one or more apps from an undisclosed list. “Home” is a common location that a phone pings between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Data is collected from an average of 18 million phones per day.

Google data then tracks the users via their Google accounts and compares their data to what they were doing before stay-at-home orders were issued.

In its analysis, The Post found that people were traveling to parks and grocery stores, but not to their workplaces.

“The percentage of phones (and presumably, their owners) in workplaces dropped steeply in mid-March and has barely risen,” The Post reported. “More than 30 million people have filed for unemployment benefits in the past six weeks.”

The University of Maryland study looks closely as how social distancing trends have changed since January, when the first case of the coronavirus was recorded in the U.S.

The interactive database provides social distancing index ratings down to the county level. A rating from zero to 100 is given, which represents the extent residents and visitors are practicing social distancing. A zero rating would indicate no social distancing measures were being observed, while a 100 would indicate all residents are staying home and no visitors are entering the county.

According to the database, Jessamine County’s social distancing efforts have been largely in line with the state’s overall efforts.

Kentucky’s first case was reported March 6, which involved a Harrison County resident who was hospitalized in Lexington.

The database indicates that Jessamine County and Kentucky’s social distancing efforts are returning to those prior to the first reported case in the state.

On March 1, Kentucky’s social distancing index (SDI) was 33, while Jessamine County’s was 33. As of May 8, the latest date for which data is available, the rate for the state and Jessamine County was 39.

The state and county hit their highest SDI April 12, which also happened to be Easter Sunday.

Since March 1, Kentucky’s rates have fluctuated between 13 in early March and 73 on April 12. Jessamine County’s rates have ranged from 12 in early March to the high of 75 on April 12.

The database also looks at mobility during the pandemic, which includes things like the percentage of people staying home, trips per person, miles traveled, trips taken and public transportation.

As of May 8, 25 percent of Jessamine Countians were staying home, with an average of 3.15 trips per person. Of those trips, 2.69 were not work-related trips.

The database also digs into things like COVID-19 and health, which includes data on total number of cases, days of decreasing cases and testing capacity; economic impact, which includes data on unemployment rates and claims; and the vulnerable population, which compares data based on age, median income, race, gender and more. The complete interactive database can be viewed at https://data.covid.umd.edu.