Scoreboard ranks states by social distancing. How is yours doing?

Not all states are practicing social-distancing so well.
This map, created by the mobility data company Unacast, shows how well people are adhering to social distancing. The analysis is based on location data from mobile devices. (Image credit: unacast)

Washington, D.C., tops the list of localities doing social distancing well, while Wyoming is lagging behind, according to a new coronavirus scorecard. 

The score card, created by the mobility data company Unacast, uses comparisons in travel data from before and after U.S. coronavirus cases were detected. The data comes from location services on mobile devices. The travel distance reflects working from home, canceling vacations and reduced movement to nonessential activities, Unacast CEO Thomas Walle wrote in a blog post. 

"Travel distance is one aspect, but of course people can travel far without meeting a soul or travel 50 feet and end up in a crowd — so we know that the real world picture can be quite complex," Waller noted

Related: Live updates on COVID-19

For that reason, the numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. In Washington, D.C., for example, people might have long commutes to and from suburbs, resulting in a dramatic drop in travel when work-from-home orders were issued. In Wyoming, where towns are smaller, work may be but a brief trip (and some ranchers and farmers already work from home). Likewise, the same once-a-week grocery trip may represent a journey of a few blocks for a D.C. resident or a journey of 50 miles (80 kilometers) for someone in rural Wyoming. 

Despite those limitations, the data provides some sense of how behaviors have changed in different places since COVID-19 became a household term in the U.S. Overall, the data shows a 32% decline in average distance traveled after coronavirus versus before coronavirus. The places where distance traveled has dropped the most are D.C. (66% decline), Hawaii (56% decline), Nevada (50% decline), Massachusetts (47% decline) and New Jersey (46% decline). 

On the other end of the distance-traveled scale were North Dakota (18% decline), Montana (16% decline), Iowa 16% decline), Arkansas (13% decline) and Wyoming (3% decline). 

New York, where the most coronavirus cases have been confirmed so far, has seen a 45% decline in travel distance, according to the scoreboard. Louisiana, which has seen a rapid rise in cases and deaths, has seen a 31% decline. Washington has had a travel decline of 40%. Florida, which has not yet issued statewide stay-at-home directives, has nonetheless seen a decline of 38%. 

County-level data is also available, though these figures are difficult to interpret. For instance, the worst-ranked county is the Hoonah-Angoon Census Area in Alaska, with a 1539% increase in distance traveled. This census area is extremely sparsely populated, with about 2,000 residents spread over almost 11,000 square miles (28,270 square kilometers), and the leap in travel seems to have happened around March 25 and may represent the movements of just a few people. The top county, with a 92% decline in travel distance, is another relatively sparsely populated spot, San Juan County in Colorado, where only 715 people live.

Unacast is working to improve their metrics and may add more measurements in upcoming versions of the scoreboard, Walle wrote. Changes in the number of encounters between device-holders in particular areas or the change in the number of locations that a particular device-holder visits could add more detail to each region's score. 

Originally published on Live Science.

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Stephanie Pappas
Live Science Contributor

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.