Duval County gets a D+ for social distancing in new data scoreboard

Online tool compares mobility data before pandemic to now to see how well communities are separating

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Health officials say social distancing is one of our greatest weapons in the fight against COVID-19.

Florida and Georgia are both under stay at home orders -- at least for another week.

A new online tool breaks down how well communities are separating by comparing mobility data before the pandemic to now.

Unacast, a data firm, created the interactive “social distancing scoreboard” by tracking tens of millions of anonymous mobile phones and their interactions with each other each day. The firm said it prioritizes privacy and doesn’t identify individual people, devices or households when it collects the data. (The full methodology is explained here.)

In the scoreboard, each state is graded on its reduction in average mobility, reduction of non-essential visits, and how the decrease in encounter density compares to the national baseline.

Florida was graded as a C-minus. Georgia earned a C.

Despite the modest grade for Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state is flattening the curve.

"You go back a month, month and a half, we heard report after report saying it was just a matter of time until Florida's hospital system was completely overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients,” DeSantis said. “In fact, there was an article in March in the Miami Herald that said this week in April, Florida could see 465,000 people hospitalized throughout the state of Florida. The reality is slightly more than 2,000. Those predictions have been false. Our work is succeeding. We have flattened the curve.”

Unacast says its data focuses on how people are adapting their everyday behavior in a few specific areas to get an idea of how well the communities are following social distancing guidelines. It reasons that switching to working from home, avoiding non-essential trips to entertainment or “spare-time” facilities and canceling trips all strongly reduce travel distance.

Unacast admits it’s data strategy will need improvement to factor in not only travel distance but how many people someone encounters.

“As we better understand our data and how it describes the new world under COVID-19, we will continuously update our social distancing score as well as develop other datasets that can be used in the fight against COVID-19,” Thomas Walle, CEO and co-founder of Unacast, wrote on the firm’s website.

According to Unacast’s current data, which was last updated April 20, there’s been a 40-55% reduction in average mobility in Florida, which equals a C in the grading system. The state got a B for non-essential visits, with a 65-70% reduction since the beginning of the outbreak.

But in the density of encounters compared to the national baseline, Florida got an F with only a 40% decrease.

Most Northeast Florida counties earned a D, D-plus or D-minus.

St. Johns County received a C grade, and Union County got a B-minus.

Duval and St. Johns counties both received failing grades for reducing encounter density.

In Southeast Georgia, Brantley earned a C, Charlton and Ware a C-minus, Camden a D and Glynn a D-plus.

To see your specific county’s grade and how Unacast reached it, click here and then search for your state to find county-by-county grades.

Based on the most recent data from Unacast, the top five states when it comes to practicing effective social distancing are Nevada, Michigan, California, North Dakota and New Mexico.

The bottom five states were North Carolina, South Carolina, Rhode Island, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

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