Iowa rates a ‘C’ for staying home, based on cell-phone data

    Location data from mobile devices are allowing a glimpse into how much Americans are staying put during the COVID-19 crisis. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Workforce Development)

    Iowans received a “C” grade for staying home during the COVID-19 crisis, based on an analysis of cell-phone data showing the change in average distance traveled.

    Fourteen counties in Iowa earned “F” grades, showing less than a 10% decrease in distances traveled.

    The study was conducted by Unacast, a company that collects and analyzes location data.  It created a “Social Distancing Scoreboard” that uses cell phone location data to measure the change in distance traveled compared to pre-COVID-19 days.  Locations that saw a decrease of 40 percent or more received an “A.”

    Iowa’s “C” grade was based on a 30% change as of March 22. That was six days after Gov. Kim Reynolds ordered the closure of bars, dine-in restaurant services and other entertainment venues on March 17, and the same day she expanded the emergency order to include hair and nail salons, barber shops, spas and other personal-care businesses.

    Polk County also received a “C” grade.  Counties that rated an “F” were Worth, Floyd, Hamilton, Harrison, Audubon, Jasper, Poweshiek, Pottawattamie, Cass, Adair, Clarke, Lucas, Fremont and Van Buren.

    The top five states for social distancing based on the most recent data reported were District of Columbia, Nevada, New Jersey, Vermont and Massachusetts. The bottom five were New Mexico, Idaho, Hawaii, Montana and Wyoming, which received the only “F” grade for a state.

    The Washington Post reported earlier this week on the use of GPS location data in the U.S. and elsewhere to assess compliance with social distancing restrictions.

    Kathie Obradovich
    Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine. She is a leading voice on Iowa politics and makes regular appearances on state, national and international news programs. She has led national-award-winning coverage of the Iowa Caucuses and the Register’s Iowa Poll.