Got COVID-19 cabin fever? Your cellphone could be telling on you

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Your cellphone could be telling researchers if you’ve got a case of cabin fever during the coronavirus crisis.

According to a University of Maryland website that uses phone data to track compliance with social distancing guidelines and grades on a 0-100 scale, North Carolina’s score dropped by almost half during a five-day span last week.

The COVID-19 Impact Analysis Platform says the state most recently received an overall social distancing score of 33 — five days after it had a 64.

That most recent score on April 24 ranks 37th out of 51 — the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia — and marks the state’s lowest since Gov. Roy Cooper announced a statewide stay-at-home order on March 30.

North Carolina ranked 28th on that list on April 19.

A lengthy list of companies and research groups have been relying on anonymized cellphone data to keep tabs on social distancing efforts throughout the pandemic. 

Tech firm Unacast has given North Carolina an overall grade of D-minus in its social distancing scoreboard, Google’s most recent report on mobility in the state was more encouraging and a weekly Duke University survey indicates that the vast majority of state residents continue to practice social distancing, although large numbers of people are still having encounters with others outside their household.

And a study released Monday by Wallethub — which doesn’t rely on phone data but does evaluate social distancing efforts — says it’s tougher in North Carolina to socially distance than in other states, ranking it 15th from the bottom in the ease of achieving social isolation.

The Maryland researchers say those overall scores are calculated by adding a series of weighted figures, including the percentage of residents who stay at home — defined by not making any trips of further than a mile from home — the percentage by which all trips were reduced compared to pre-coronavirus benchmarks, the reduction of trips both for work and non-work reasons, the distance of those trips and whether people traveled outside their home county.

The percentage of people considered by the study to be staying home dropped to 23 percent, the lowest number since it was 22 percent on March 17 — when the state closed restaurants and bars to dine-in customers. That number was at 41 percent on April 12.

Researchers also say nearly 30 percent of trips crossed county lines, the highest percentage since March 19, and the average person traveled 29.7 miles that day by all modes of transportation — the most since March 20.

The website ranked the District of Columbia first that day with a 69, followed by New York and New Jersey, which were tied at 65. Wyoming (23), Montana (24) and South Dakota (25) were the bottom three states on that day.

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