Where America Didn’t Stay Home Even as the Virus Spread

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Stay-at-home orders have nearly halted travel for most Americans, but people in Florida, the Southeast and other places that waited to enact such orders have continued to travel widely, potentially exposing more people as the coronavirus outbreak accelerates, according to an analysis of cellphone location data by The New York Times.

The divide in travel patterns, based on anonymous cellphone data from 15 million people, suggests that Americans in wide swaths of the West, Northeast and Midwest have complied with orders from state and local officials to stay home. Disease experts who reviewed the results say those reductions in travel — to less than a mile a day, on average, from about five miles — may be enough to sharply curb the spread of the coronavirus in those regions, at least for now.

“That’s huge,” said Aaron A. King, a University of Michigan professor who studies the ecology of infectious disease. “By any measure this is a massive change in behavior, and if we can make a similar reduction in the number of contacts we make, every indication is that we can defeat this epidemic.”

In areas where public officials have resisted or delayed stay-at-home orders, people changed their habits far less. Though travel distances in those places have fallen drastically, last week they were still typically more than three times those in areas that had imposed lockdown orders, the analysis shows.

A half-dozen of the most populous counties where residents were traveling widely last week are in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis resisted calling for a statewide lockdown until Wednesday. People in Jacksonville, Tampa, Daytona Beach, Lakeland and surrounding areas continued to travel much more than people in other parts of the country, putting those areas at a higher risk for outbreaks in the coming weeks.

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