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Data show Americans are returning to normal life whether state and local officials like it or not


Shelter-in-place is ending

Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

As the coronavirus pandemic wanes, new mobility data shows that Americans are no longer sheltering in place to the extent they did several weeks ago, despite continued state and local guidelines.

What are the details?

According to Apple's mobility trends report — which tracks people's searches for directions on Apple Maps — traffic in America has more than doubled in the last three weeks since its low point at -60% from the baseline. As of Saturday, that number had risen to only -16% from the baseline.

Another report, this one from location data provider Foursquare, found that "fast food and gas station visits have returned to pre-COVID-19 levels in the Midwest and in rural areas across the nation." Foursquare collects its data from willing participants who allow the company to track locations they visit.

The reports correspond with mobile phone data provided to NPR by SafeGraph over the weekend which also showed that Americans are not sheltering in place as much as they had in early April.

"About 50% of those mobile phones that SafeGraph had data on stayed home on April 12, which was Easter — the highest point in the data," the NPR report noted. "That number hasn't since come anywhere close, showing a steady decline with the most recent numbers showing that less than 40% stayed home on April 27."

The report added that the trend is consistent across the entire country.

Why does it matter?

While many states across the country have begun a phased return to normalcy, easing shelter-in-place orders and reopening certain nonessential retail businesses, the trend is not consistent across the board. Some states, such as New York, California, and Michigan, have continued their strict social distancing guidelines.

Yet even in states where a phased reopening has begun, that process did not officially begin until late April or early May. But by that time, data show that many Americans were already easing back into normal life.

It appears that the nationwide shelter in place is ending, regardless of what state and local officials say.

"Whether governments, medical professionals, and scientists want it to or not, people seem tired of the shutdown and eager to get back to some semblance of normal life," John Koetsier, a writer and data analyst for Forbes, wrote.

Nick Singh, a marketing lead at SafeGraph, agreed with that sentiment, as well.

"Regardless of what the orders say or the governors say, we're seeing the whole country softening up," he said.

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