COVID-19 report shows blue states with less mobility than red

WalletHub relied on Google for data in its latest report on which states have had the lowest mobility to stores and workplaces with COVID-19 shelter-in-place guidance. (WalletHub)

Personal finance website WalletHub used Google’s COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports to show the states where people are moving about the most and the least to workplaces, stores, parks, transit stations and residences.

One insight in the report (which might be obvious to political junkies) is that there has been less movement by people in blue states than red states, but not by a huge margin.

The heavy lifting for the project came from Google insights based on the Google location history setting in smartphones and other mobile devices that users have voluntarily enabled.  The Google community mobility reports rely on aggregated, anonymized sets of data from these users.

 WalletHub found that some very populous states like New York, New Jersey, California and Florida have seen greater slowing down of personal movement than a variety of states with smaller populations like Nebraska, Kansas, Arkansas and Kentucky. WalletHub compared Google's data from April 11 versus the median value for the corresponding day of the week for the period from Jan. 3 to Feb. 6.

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Also, health officials in states like New York, New Jersey and California have actively pushed residents to stay at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, while governors in some other states are reopening businesses and have relaxed some social distancing protocols. As such, in some sense, the WalletHub findings are expected.  WalletHub even analyzed the political affiliation of the states with the least movement, finding that blue, Democrat-leaning states had less mobility than red, Republican-leaning states.

The full results are online. They show that the five states that are showing the most slowing in mobility are Hawaii in the slowest position, followed in order by New York, New Jersey, Vermont and Nevada. The states with the greatest mobility across six locations are Nebraska with the greatest mobility, followed in order by Kansas, Arkansas, Kentucky and Iowa.

WalletHub also shared with FierceElectronics a comparison of Nebraska (at the most mobility) to New York (with the second least mobility). 

The biggest difference between the two states was that a greater percentage of people visited parks in Nebraska than in New York, with a reduction in visits to parks in New York of 12% over a recent period and an increase of 52% to parks in Nebraska. 

New York was top ranked number 1 in lesser movement to retail and recreation establishments, while Nebraska was ranked 44th.

A significant drop in visits to stores, as in New York, would have a bigger impact on the slowing of an economy versus visits to parks, explained WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez.  "Nebraska's increase in park visits could be due to the fact that authorities there haven't imposed as many restrictions as those in New York," Gonzalez explained to FierceElectronics. Other factors that contributed to Nebraska's ranking were smaller drops in visits to retail and recreation places, transit stations and workplaces.

Users of the WalletHub report might not agree with all the findings for political or other reasons, but playing around with the data may offer some insight to data scientists and others about how Google gathers and dissects data and how companies like WalletHub may use it.

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