Jul 8, 2020 - Energy & Environment

How the coronavirus pandemic changed mobility habits, by state

Data: Descartes Labs Economic Activities Signal; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios
Data: Descartes Labs Economic Activities Signal; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Americans in most states are moving at nearly the same level as, and sometimes even more than, before the pandemic compelled lockdowns across the U.S.

Driving the news: Mobility data from Descartes Labs shows the vast swing in American movement over the last four months, with this chart showing March 7-July 4.

Why it matters: Tracking mobility habits sheds light on many aspects of our society, including economic indicators like gasoline demand and levels of local pollution.

By the numbers: Gas prices averaged $2.18 a gallon, the cheapest for Independence Day weekend in at least a decade, according to a research note published Tuesday by investment bank RBC Capital Markets.

The intrigue: We spotted some interesting trends:

  • People in largely rural, western states — including Montana, the Dakotas and Wyoming — are actually moving around more than they did right before lockdowns, data shows. (That's to be expected in the summer months, but given the coronavirus, it also shows the relative increase compared to other states.)
  • Mobility in southern states and some in the west didn’t drop nearly as much as their coastal counterparts, reflecting a political trend with more liberal states locking down more aggressively and earlier than more conservative ones.

How it works: Descartes Labs, a data sciences firm based in Sante Fe, New Mexico, uses what it calls “de-identified commercially available geolocation data” to develop its mobility index, which is what we’ve charted here.

  • The firm receives data from commercial data partners regarding mobile phone applications that maintain appropriate consents, approvals and/or opt-ins. It declined to specify which kinds of applications it receives.

Yes, but: As the virus increases its spread in numerous states and governors consider partially locking down for a second time, mobility could tick back down again.

What we’re watching: RBC Capital Markets said its real-time indicators “suggest a slowing degree of traffic activity this past weekend” due to the coronavirus spreading more aggressively in some states.

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