WI Stay at Home

Despite safer-at-home orders in place through May 26, many Wisconsinites may be moving about more now than in the opening weeks of the pandemic, according to data from Cuebiq, a private company that uses GPS features on mobile devices to track movement anonymously. Throughout the end of March and all of April, Wisconsinites everywhere greatly reduced their traveling compared to the past year.

The visual above shows the state began staying put before Gov. Tony Evers’ March 25 safer-at-home order. With news breaking that celebrities like Tom Hanks had contracted the coronavirus, the NBA was postponing the remainder of its season (both on March 11), Wisconsin schools were being closed and a national emergency had been declared (both on March 13), citizens across the state were changing their behavior prior to the safer-at-home order.

That said, in more recent weeks, the data suggest Wisconsinites are moving more now than they were six weeks ago. Cuebiq compares by county and by week the change in the distance travelled to the average distance travelled in the preceding 365 days. Despite the news of more confirmed coronavirus cases in April than March, all 72 Wisconsin counties show movement patterns closer to what they were over the previous 365 days as the summer approaches.

A number of factors could influence these numbers. First, with evidence indicating the virus may spread less easily outside, more Wisconsinites may be taking advantage of good weather by leaving the house to exercise, go to a state park or forest, or take a walk on a newly-opened “Active Street” in Milwaukee. Many may also be growing tired of quarantine conditions after two months. The recent decision by Gov. Evers to open up retail stores (with many restrictions still in place) could mean the trend back towards normal mobility continues, though as these data show state orders are just one potential factor in people’s movements.

This analysis was conducted using an index of mobility created by Cuebiq and based on an analysis and visualization created by FiveThirtyEight. Whereas FiveThirtyEight uses Cuebiq’s shelter-in-place data, we analyzed available data on the Cuebiq Mobility Index (CMI) variation from the previous year. Because these data compare the change in movement in a week to movement from the previous 365 days, as more of the safer-at-home period is included in the preceding days, we might see the trend move back towards zero; however, this has happened at a more rapid pace than one might expect. Also, these private data track mobility and do not directly measure social interaction. However, they may provide perspective on Wisconsinites’ shifting reaction to the coronavirus as well as state and local policies. In April, we analyzed how vehicle traffic has changed based on Department of Transportation data, which offers another perspective.