Cellphone data shows how well North Carolina counties are following social distancing rules

It's the number one rule being drilled in to all of us right now - social distancing or physically distancing ourselves from others is the only way to stop the spread.

The I-Team and our ABC-owned station group tracked the data, county-by-county, to see how well or how badly North Carolina was doing staying at home or at least close to home. How did we do that? By tracing the patterns of the devices most of all carry all the time, our cell phones.

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"I can't stress it enough, your actions matter," said state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen from the State Emergency Operations Center in west Raleigh Monday. "Staying home matters. Staying home will save lives."

Wake County projections show what could happen if residents don't practice physical distancing

It was a point echoed outside the West Wing of the White House. "Every one of us has a role to play in winning this war," said President Donald Trump.

Social distancing: What it is and how it slows spread of coronavirus

The I-Team examined the maximum distance a cell phone moved from its original location each morning. We were using information provided by Descartes Labs. They provided anonymous data from authorized users who agreed to share their locations within apps like maps or social media.


The I-Team tracked three dates: March 9, March 16 and last Monday, March 23.

Statewide, the typical North Carolinian was traveling an average six miles away from home. It was down to 4.8 miles a week later. And by the 23rd it was down to 2.5 miles -- a 59 percent decrease.

In Wake County, 5.7 miles was the average distance residents traveled from home on March 9. By last Monday, even before the county's stay-at-home order took hold, it was down to 0.8 miles --an 86 percent drop.
In Durham County, a typical resident moved 4.4 miles from home on March 9 and sliced the distance down to four tenths of a mile by the 23rd -- a 90 percent decrease.

And there was an even larger travel decrease in Orange County: 5.1 miles traveled on March 9 to 0.3 miles by the March 23 -- down 95 percent.

"Every citizen, family and business can make the difference in stopping the virus," President Trump told the nation Monday afternoon.

But the social distancing push seemed to have less of a hold in the Triangle's surrounding counties -- the more rural, the more traveling we saw.

In Cumberland County, the average resident traveled 4.1 miles from home. It went down to 1.3 miles by the 23rd -- A 69 percent decrease.

But Wilson County showed one of the smallest drops in travel, from 4.8 miles to 3.1 -- just a 36 percent decrease.

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