Assessing changes in commuting and individual mobility in major metropolitan areas in the United States during the COVID-19 outbreak

Brennan Klein, Timothy LaRock, Stefan McCabe, Leo Torres, Filippo Privitera, Brennan Lake, Moritz U. G. Kraemer, John S. Brownstein, David Lazer, Tina Eliassi-Rad, Samuel V. Scarpino, Matteo Chinazzi, and Alessandro Vespignani


On March 16, 2020, the United States government issued new guidelines promoting public health social social distancing interventions to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic in the country [1]. In addition, many state and local governments in the United States have enacted stay-at-home policies banning mass gatherings, enforcing school closures, and promoting smart working. So far, however, the extent to which these policies have resulted in reduced people's mobility has not been quantified. By analyzing data from millions of (anonymized, aggregated, privacy-enhanced) devices, we estimate that by March 23 the policies have generally reduced by half the overall mobility in several major U.S. cities. In order to gauge the observed results we know events, we note that the commuting volume on Monday, March 16, approached those of a typical snow day or analogous day when public schools are partially closed (i.e. January 2). By Friday, March 20, we observe commuting numbers that resemble those measured on federal holidays (i.e. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January or Presidents' Day in February). Currently, we are unable to quantify the extent to which this reduced commuting volume is driven by people working from home or simply an increase in unemployment, though it is surely a mixture of both. Whether this reduction in mobility is enough to change the course of this pandemic is not yet known, but it does provide guidance for further measures that can be implemented at a national scale in the United States.

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