Rock Island County is taking social distancing seriously, and Scott County isn't taking it seriously enough.
That’s one conclusion from a new scorecard that analyzes phone GPS location data to measure the extent to which Americans are social distancing.
The scorecard, which updates every day and uses data roughly three days old, gave Rock Island County a grade of “B” on Tuesday for its 37% decline in average distance traveled.
By contrast, Scott County got a grade of "F" for its meager 7% decline in distance traveled.
The “Social Distancing Scorecard,” which does not provide a comprehensive review of local efforts at social distancing or containing the coronavirus, was put together by Unacast, a data analytics company. Grading all 50 states and D.C., county by county, the scorecard relies on information from the invisible but omnipresent data collection capabilities of apps on tens of millions of phones nationwide, including games, shopping and utility apps.
Specifically, the scorecard looks at change in distance traveled over time as a proxy for social distancing, a crude but useful datapoint about everyday behavior amid pandemic. The local data was collected March 21 and updated on Tuesday.
Unacast's chief executive Thomas Wall told The Washington Post he hopes the scorecard helps track compliance and efficacy of stay-at-home guidelines. He also said the company "can't tell or disclose if any individual is staying at home or not" because the data is aggregated.
Because the data isn’t hyper-localized, the scorecard doesn’t indicate whether individuals are maintaining a six-foot barrier, for instance. However, the report gives a snapshot — which has not been vetted by public health authorities — of how whole communities are responding to social distancing guidelines.
As of Tuesday, the scorecard gave the United States a grade of “B” for its 40% decline in average distance traveled. Illinois had an overall grade of "A" and Iowa an overall grade of "C." Wyoming, with a grade of "F," performed worst nationwide.
The grades are as follows: "A" for a decrease greater than 40%; "B" for a decrease between 30-40%; "C" for 20-30%; "D" for 10-20%; "F" for a decrease smaller than 10%.
Specific data-collecting apps were not identified by the scorecard. Walle told the Post that all of the apps used by Unacast let users know, but many smartphone users don’t realize the extent to which apps they use collect their information.
The Quad-Cities data appears to show more and more social distancing over time, suggesting Quad-Citians are increasingly taking health recommendations seriously.
"I'm quite confident that social distancing in all its dimensions is the right approach to take," said Louis Katz, medical director for the Scott County Health Department, referencing progress in New York and Italy through strict social distancing interventions. "It takes time to work."
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