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An analysis of travel tracked by GPS in peoples' mobile phones, conducted by the data consultant Unacast, shows which Florida counties have seen residents reduce travel in the coronavirus crisis, through March 28.

Coronavirus in Florida

Most Floridians moving about less only in highly-infected areas

A study done independently by the New York Times shows the same thing.

Heading into Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ momentous decision Wednesday to declare a statewide stay-at-home order, Floridians were severely limiting their travel only in a small handful of areas that already were suffering high infection numbers from the new coronavirus.

At least that’s what the most recent data show from a commercial data company that tracks GPS movement on mobile phones and other devices. Unacast, a New York-based data-crunching consultant, has been using that technology to track millions of Americans to provide pro-bono data to help public health officials assess and plan for COVID-19 responses.

Unacast’s most recent data, which tracks people through last Saturday, gives Florida an overall grade of a C based on a national curve. Unacast’s analysis shows the Sunshine State had slowed down some but not nearly as much as residents of other states, notably hard-hit New York, New Jersey, and Michigan, but also Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Nevada.

DeSantis’ order does not take effect until 12:01 a.m. Friday.

Meanwhile Florida’s coronavirus outbreak is expanding rapidly. State officials on Wednesday reported back-to-back days of more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases as well as 16 more fatalities, putting Florida’s total case count at 7,773 and death toll at 101 Wednesday evening.

Within Florida, only four counties receive A grades [actually A-] from Unacast’s analysis, and all have seen early local lock-down orders and major outbreaks: Miami-Dade, Monroe, Orange, and Osceola.

Meanwhile ten Florida counties in northern Florida that mostly have suffered few or no cases of people infected with COVID-19 showed little change in people’s movements, and got F grades for changes in behavior. And from Broward [B-] to Nassau [D-] to Escambia [C-] Florida’s counties have demonstrated that residents were following a widely-inconsistent range of activity, with some people slowing down travel a bit, and some almost not at all, according to the Unacast analysis.

Among other counties given Unacast grades based on residents’ reductions in mobility, Pinellas got a B, Palm Beach, Hillsborough and Collier each got a B-, Lee got a C, and Duval and Seminole got C-. All of them have suffered more than 100 COVID-19 cases through Wednesday, according to the latest reports from the Florida Department of Health.

The Unicast data are consistent with an independent analysis produced by the New York Times and published Thursday, headlined “Where America Didn’t Stay Home Even as the Virus Spread,” That report, which also used data through the end of last week, showed that residents in South Florida and Central Florida counties were among those that have greatly curtailed travel, but in many other counties, notably throughout North Florida, people have hardly changed their travel habits.

“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 paper reported.

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 scott@floridapolitics.com.

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