Using mobile location data provided by Facebook, infectious disease researchers provide daily outbreak dynamics to cities and states across the United States to assess the effectiveness of social social diversion stodgy in slowing the spread of the new coronavirus. According to the latest images shared by New York City health officials, u.S. city residents are following guidance in March to restrict non-essential outings.
The COVID-19 Mobile Data Network team, a group of 40 health researchers from Harvard, Princeton and Johns Hopkins universities, says it has been sharing Facebook-based mobile location data daily with California, Massachusetts and New York since mid-March and providing insights.
In late March, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) worked with state and local governments across the country to track people’s cell phone location data to study trends in the spread of new coronaviruses. Mobile advertising companies, not mobile operators themselves, have been forwarding to U.S. government agencies through the CDC information from “certain geographicly interested users,” people familiar with the matter said. The initiative is designed to help create a national government portal and will use geo-location data from up to 500 cities to monitor outbreaks.
Officials argue that the information, which has been anonymized and aggregated, could help them tailor their response to the spread of the virus and use variables such as driving miles or visiting stores to estimate the economic impact of the outbreak.
Such monitoring by government agencies can also serve as a reminder of whether people comply with CDC guidelines for keeping a safe distance or official “take refuge in place” orders. For example, the researchers found, using geographic data, that despite warning notices, a large number of New Yorkers visited Prospect Park in Brooklyn and contacted the police.