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Coronavirus in Florida

Are we moving about less? Fascinating commercial website tracking us says yes

What? You thought no one was tracking your phone’s GPS?

A commercial data company that tracks GPS movement on mobile phones and other devices is using that information to grade whether mandatory and voluntary shutdowns are succeeding in keeping people home. It finds strong but not optimal progress in Florida.

Unacast, a New York-based data crunching consultant, has unveiled its pro bono COVID-19 toolkit with the first tool rating states and counties on whether the GPS data is showing that people, indeed, are going nowhere now.

The company has been tracking people by device GPS for years, so it has a baseline of what “normal” travel behavior is in each county and state. The grades are based on how much that has changed in the past couple of weeks. In many, the changes have been profound, with drop-offs of 30%, 40%, 50% or more in total movement of people with trackable devices.

The company’s Social Distancing Scoreboard, rolled out Tuesday, gives Florida a B grade overall, based on an overall score of a 39% reduction of travel compared with normal. An A grade goes to places that topped 40%.

“While much is still unknown about COVID-19, it’s clear social distancing is widely agreed to be an effective way of slowing the spread, and a containment strategy advised by both the World Health Organization and the CDC. We have seen this work well in China, where the outbreak originated, and also in places like Singapore and South Korea,” Unicast Chief Executive Officer Thomas Walle wrote in a blog explanation.

“It’s why we at Unacast are applying our Real World Graph data engine to create a pro bono Covid-19 Toolkit to help public health experts, policy makers, academics, community leaders, and businesses in retail and real estate,” he added.

The Sunshine State’s grade is weighted down a bit by a highly inconsistent pattern showing a handful of counties that have both large numbers of COVID-19 cases and greatly reduced mobility, and counties where there are few or no cases reported and no significant slowdown in the travels of people.

Palm Beach County tops Florida, with daily tracked travel down 56% since March 10. Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange, and Osceola also show drop-offs of more than 50%. Unicast gives them all A grades.

On the other hand, the company’s explanation of its methods did not mention any adjustments for the lost activity of tourists. Other areas that have huge tourist sectors, such as Clark County, Nevada, and Orleans Parish, Louisiana, also showed dramatic drop-offs in travel.

Seminole County (43% reduction) also got an A, while Pinellas, Hillsborough, Lee, Duval, Alachua and a handful of other counties got B grades.

On the other hand, the data suggests that little has changed yet in Sumter County, home of most of The Villages, where daily movement is down only 6% from normal. Sumter got an F. Eight other Florida counties also were given F grades, though virtually all of them have low populations, and have few or no COVID-19 cases yet.

Among states, only Rhode Island and Nevada had reductions in travel of greater than 50%, though several others also got A grades, notably New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Texas, and California.

In Wyoming, the company tracked no change in travel habits, statewide, a 0% change. Wyoming has 24 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at

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