Attempts to restrict people’s mobility to control the spread of COVID-19 can only be effective for a short time, the researchers said. A new study examines the mobility of people for seven months during the pandemic in the United States using mobile phone data made public and anonymized.
Reported in the Journal of Transportation Geography, study alerts authorities to the need for more manageable travel restrictions and policies that reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for essential workers – who, because they must be physically present in their workplace , remained very mobile during the pandemic.
The longitudinal study is one of the first to compare mobility data using a wide range of people over an extended period, rather than a cross section of data from a single point in time, the researchers said. .
“The longitudinal approach allowed us to differentiate two distinct waves during our study period: a first wave from March to June and a second wave from June to September,” said Junghwan Kim, graduate student in geography and science. geographic information at the University. from Illinois Urbana-Champaign who led the research with Mei-Po Kwan, professor of geography at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Kim’s doctoral student at the University of I. “This approach also allowed us to seek connections between changing mobility and various social, spatial, political and political factors. “
The study used data from mobile devices from 2,639 of 3,000 US counties, excluding those with too little data, those with excessively high mobility levels, and those with incomplete demographics.
“We found that, overall, mobility declined sharply in March and April, but quickly returned to pre-pandemic mobility levels from April to June, forming a V-shaped data curve,” a Kim said. “During the second wave that occurred between June and September, we saw very little change in mobility despite the COVID-19 pandemic becoming more severe. A closer look at the data showed that changes in mobility are associated with political partisanship, poverty, restricted mobility and the high number of COVID-19 cases, the researchers said.
The team found that the mobility of people in Democratic-leaning counties was slower to recover than in Republican-leaning counties; whereas counties with more poor people showed only a slight decrease in mobility throughout the study period; and that statewide COVID-19 mobility restrictions were more effective in March and April than April to June.
“The political result not only corroborates the findings of similar studies, but also reflects how the US response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been highly politicized,” Kim said. “The results which show that the working poor traveled almost normally during the pandemic – possibly because they tend to represent a large percentage of essential workers – is an issue that needs to be addressed.”
According to the researchers, there are limitations to this type of study, including the anonymous nature of mobile device data, which protects user privacy but hinders the ability to obtain more accurate data at the individual level. In addition, this type of data does not take into account the complex interactions between human mobility and the severity of COVID-19.
“Considering that mobility is an essential component of people’s daily lives in modern societies, like the United States, we hope that policymakers can carefully design and implement pandemic control policies that people find. easier to follow, ”Kim said.
A block research grant from the University of Illinois and a grant from the Chinese University of Hong Kong supported this research.
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Material provided by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, News Bureau. Original written by Lois Yoksoulian. Note: Content can be changed for style and length.