NC cellphone data shows counties get better at social distancing in days after Stay-at-Home order

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- North Carolina is under a statewide stay-at-home order through at least April 29, but is anyone listening? The short answer, is yes.

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 earlier this week. "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.

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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.


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. Updated data released Friday shows that decrease continuing, with movement across the state now down to 1.92 miles, a drop of 68% since the outbreak began.

For perspective, when the I-Team first analyzed this data on Tuesday, travel had decreased 59% statewide since the outbreak began.

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. As of March 30, movement is down to 0.4 miles, an overall drop of 93%.

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. New data shows as of March 30 residents are traveling just 0.06 miles, a decrease of 99%.

In Cumberland County, typical travel was 4.15 miles on March 9. By March 23, movement dropped to 1.3 miles, and as of March 30 travel has been reduced to just 0.84 miles, an 80% decline.

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"Every citizen, family and business can make the difference in stopping the virus," President Trump told the nation earlier this week.

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 Harnett County, residents who on March 9 were traveling 8.93 miles from home have limited travel to 4.19 miles as of March 30, a drop of 53%, one of the smallest drops of surrounding counties.

Wilson County, also shows one of the smallest drops in travel, from 4.77 miles on March 9 to 3.1 miles on March 23 and 2.83 miles on March 30 -- just a 41% decrease.

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The footage used in this article is from our story published March 31, which incorporates data through March 23. Stay tuned for an updated video.
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