Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

The Physical Sciences Building stands nearly empty on March 20.

March 24, 2020

Tompkins County Gets ‘A’ Rating for Social Distancing

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As of March 21, travel has been reduced by 52 percent in Tompkins County, winning it an ‘A’ grade for social distancing based on cell phone data, according to location data analytics company Unacast.

While travel in Tompkins County fluctuated from Feb. 28 until March 18, it has sharply fallen since then. After President Martha E. Pollack’s March 13 announcement canceling all in-person classes, many Cornellians were quick to move off campus and reduce their social contact with others.

Researchers at Unacast — a company that analyzes location data to help support its clients — are now using GPS data to determine changes in average mobility, comparing counties and states across the United States.

A foreign concept just weeks ago, social distancing has quickly entered the lexicon as one of the strongest tools by which society can confront the COVID-19 pandemic. By lowering the number of people that an infected person could come into contact with, the practice reduces the rate of infection and potentially helps “flatten the curve.”

While broad swaths of America are now under “stay-at-home orders,” New York State — a national epicenter of the virus whose case count now doubles every three days — was one of the first to enforce strict social distancing measures.

Last Sunday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) announced that all non-essential businesses must close indefinitely, helping reduce movement both in Tompkins County — which now reports 18 confirmed cases — and across the state.

According to Unacast’s data, Tompkins County is one of the top five counties in New York State for social distancing, joining New York, Nassau, Westchester and Richmond, all of which are located in the hard-hit New York City metropolitan area.

But despite the fact that efforts to contain social contact have been implemented internationally for weeks and months now, there is still wide variability in social distancing across the United States. For instance, videos of college students packing Florida beaches last week drew swift backlash for defying the recommendations of public health officials.

The five states most effective at social distancing are currently Alaska, Nevada, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Washington D.C., while the worst five states are Oregon, New Mexico, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.