Geospatial Data Show Americans are Getting Quarantine Fatigue

As President Trump announced that he would allow governors to decide when to relax social distancing measures, Orbital Insight has tracked differences in approaches on a national and local level. In an effort to provide insights to local governments and its citizens as to which policies or initiatives are most successful, Orbital Insight has developed a thorough and near real-time method to understand mobility trends using anonymized geolocation data. Varying accessibility to services, infrastructure, urbanization, stay at home orders, the ratio of essential workers, and cultural differences will most certainly influence these outcomes.

However, Orbital Insight provides additional value with its ability to get granular information and track activity on the parks, beaches, real estate assets, and transit center and extrapolate its impact on the economic and health recovery.


Orbital Insight looked at the median standard distance - measuring how far anonymized cell phone devices moved each day - as a proxy for how people are traveling. Rather than using total distance in our calculations, we found that it was more precise to look at how travel patterns change as a function of time (i.e. compactness) and more robust at mitigating outliers. We calculated the median in order to show a nationwide trend in a single methodology across this large dataset. We also only analyzed a sample of anonymized devices that appeared consistently. We also took into account that with some states and industries, essential workers are still traveling, and have indexed off that baseline behavior.

National Trends

Orbital Insight analyzed the movement patterns of nearly 12 million anonymized devices in aggregate each day. The median standard distance that people travel is about five kilometers, across the United States (before the shelter in place orders). We see big spikes on Fridays, as well as a good tail off starting around March 8th. This is consistent across different cohorts within that very large data set. However, in the week of April 12th, we see an increase again as protests happen nationwide and a few states lift orders.

National Social Distancing Median

State Level Trends

In this geospatial version of the analysis, the deeper purple states represent the least distance traveled so states like California, Colorado, Washington, New Jersey, Connecticut, Montana are doing well according to this metric compared to others. The lighter color, largely in the south east and more rural areas generally are seeing more movement. This is consistent with recent news in Arkansas and other states that still keep department stores open. Georgia, which already was an anomaly state in terms of their compliance to social distancing, plans to open restaurants, bowling alleys and more starting at the end of this week. On the other side of the spectrum, San Francisco closed city streets to cars to encourage social distancing and so that people can walk and bike safely with 6ft distance. Meanwhile New York, one of the darkest purple areas in the map is arresting any groups of people they see that are refusing to social distance or put on a mask.

State level social distancing trends

Looking at a few states side by side, we found that Florida, New Jersey, New York dropped off to a degree that was below national average. Despite protests in Michigan, the vast majority of people still stayed home and kept close to the standard average.

States that are social distancing

Texas and Kentucky demonstrate mobility patterns noticeably higher than the national average which makes sense as Austin, TX last week announced it would reopen businesses. Maryland did not implement any social distancing policies until later in mid March and since then is below average in recent weeks amid tighter restrictions in the area.

states that are not social distancing

County Level Trends

In the week of April 12th compared to the previous week, we see a trend of standard distance increasing, particularly in the North midwest area but also in pockets across the US. Counties with a larger percent change compared to others include: Merrimack County, NH, Travis County, TX, Ramsey County, MN, and Henrico County VA — areas where social distancing protests occurred.

However areas like Orange County, FL, Wake County, NC, Franklin County, OH, Carson City County, BC, Orange County, CA, and Ingham County, MI did not travel considerably above the national average, meaning the protests may not widely reflect local activity.


Zooming in on Florida

Governor DeSantis controversially approved easing beach restrictions in Florida, despite 680 additional COVID cases reported Friday. Orbital Insight looked at which areas opened “the floodgates” and which ones were more conservative this past weekend.

At Jacksonville’s beach, flocks of people were seen dotted around on aerial images closer than 6 feet apart, largely ignoring guidelines. According to Orbital Insight’s analysis, there were three times more people around on Saturday, April 18 compared to an average Saturday in February. Interestingly, the busiest time that beach has ever been in history is the day before it shut down in Mid March, as seen below.


Meanwhile, Miami is still shut down, and residents are clearly still adhering to their governor’s advice.

miami beach social distancing

This example highlights how geospatial data can help provide transparency and aid state governments and public institutions during a crisis. Orbital Insight GO users have the ability to track wide area trends of human activity and zoom into granular locations to understand the impacts on real estate, manufacturing, and access to public services as the world recovers. Orbital Insight is currently helping local governments and federal agencies better understand the impacts its policies have on its citizens and drive positive outcomes. Harvard’s public health study showed that intermittent social distancing may be required until 2022 (but depending on when a vaccine may become available).As a result, we continue to offer our services to public institutions and NGOs that seek to incorporate geospatial analytics into its decision making process.

About Us
Orbital Insight is the geospatial analytics company that helps organizations understand what’s happening on and to the Earth. Customers including Unilever, Airbus, RBC Capital Markets, The World Bank and the U.S. Department of Defense use Orbital Insight’s self-service analytics platform to make smarter business decisions, build sustainable supply chains and improve national security. Headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif., Orbital Insight is backed by Sequoia, GV and Goldman Sachs.

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When you use our services, you trust that we are ethically and responsibly sourcing our data. Privacy is a big responsibility that Orbital Insight takes seriously. As such, Orbital Insight does not receive or share personally identifiable information. Insights are derived at an aggregated level and our customers never receive raw data. Our analytical outputs are anonymized and aggregated long before they get to you.