The Potluck

Minnesota gets an “A” in social distancing

By: - March 25, 2020 7:55 am
unacast social distancing scoreboard

Minnesotans earned an A in social distancing, according to data you probably didn’t know you were giving away.

Minnesotans are above-average in social distancing, according to smart phone surveillance data you probably didn’t know you were giving away.

The company Unacast, which analyzes phone GPS data, launched a “Social Distancing Scoreboard” this week that shows how much people have reduced their typical travel as state and local governments have taken drastic action to limit social interactions to slow the spread of COVID-19, caused by a new coronavirus.

Overall, Minnesota earned an A, a whole letter grade higher than the country as a whole. People in a dozen other states, including New York, Michigan and Illinois, also earned top marks for following public health guidance — and executive orders — to stay home.

Data from Unacast shows a steep drop in movement beginning around March 16, when Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order closing gyms, bars and dine-in services at restaurants. People’s movements continued to declined through the week as schools and other businesses across the state closed.

Unacast gets your GPS data from any number of apps you’ve downloaded, and then analyzes it for businesses. As the Washington Post reported, it’s part of a largely hidden economy of location tracking.

Zooming in on county-level data shows that some Minnesotans may be taking social distancing more seriously than others.

The seven counties making up the Twin Cities metro all earned As as did St. Louis County. But further north in the arrowhead, Lake County got a D and Cook county got an F.

Maybe it’s caused in part by an influx of Twin Cities residents rushing to their cabins for quarantine?

You can limit how much companies can monitor your movements by turning off the location service for apps that don’t need that data.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.