Coloradans are increasingly out and about after months of staying home

Phone data shows mobility rates statewide are the highest since March

An electron microscope photograph from Elizabeth Fischer shows viral particles being released from a dying cell infected with the coronavirus. The dozens of small, blue spheres emerging from the surface of a kidney cell are the virus particles themselves. The images produced by the electron microscopes are black-and-white; a visual artist colorizes them. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Fischer)
An electron microscope photograph from Elizabeth Fischer shows viral particles being released from a dying cell infected with the coronavirus. The dozens of small, blue spheres emerging from the surface of a kidney cell are the virus particles themselves. The images produced by the electron microscopes are black-and-white; a visual artist colorizes them. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Fischer)

As restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus have been eased, Colorado residents are spending their days at home far less than in recent months, recently collected cellphone data show, nearing pre-pandemic levels.

On Saturday, June 6, the portion of Coloradans who stayed at home dropped to the lowest point since March 16, when social restrictions policies were being ramped up, but before the statewide “stay-at-home” order, according to aggregated cellphone data provided by SafeGraph.

The data clearinghouse routinely collects mobility data and has shared their data so people can see mobility patterns in their areas.

But the increased mobility of Coloradans comes as new COVID-19 case data shows improvements the restrictions were aimed to achieve: The number of new coronavirus cases in the state continues to decline.

The seven-day average of new cases fell this week to the lowest point since late March. The number of COVID-19 and suspected COVID-19 hospitalizations have steadily declined since mid-April.

The number of deaths, counted both as “deaths among” coronavirus cases and “deaths due to” COVID-19, are also falling.

And the number of daily tests has increased, with the percent of positive tests dropping to a new low of around 4%. Experts have said having a lower percent of positive test results is key to keeping a low number of transmissions from quickly spiking.

Gov. Jared Polis said during a press conference last week that he’s seen similar data provided to the state. He said the mobility data does not worry him, and that it can be seen as an encouraging sign that Coloradans have been able to leave their homes more, without a surge in cases.

“Mobility is in an indicator, but it’s not determinative,” he said of the data. “Yes, Coloradans are more mobile. What they (the latest numbers) don’t show is what they’re doing. We are focused this month on safer at home and in the great vast outdoors.”

Large gatherings, including concerts and sporting events, remain prohibited, and some counties have allowed conditional and restricted reopenings of other businesses, like restaurants.

Polis suggested that Coloradans should visit the outdoors, and has continued to emphasize mask wearing and physical distancing when possible.

“It’s no surprise people are driving a little bit more, people are going to areas of the state that have more land and less people, and that can be safe,” Polis said. “The data doesn’t show us exactly what they’re doing there and whether they’re being safe about it, but I’m not discouraged by the fact that they’re traveling.”

The mobility data shows that an average of 26% of Coloradans stayed “completely at home” on any given day in January and February, meaning the phone never left a roughly 6-acre area for the entire day.

In mid-March, the number of people staying “completely at home” rose to above 40% and remained there, peaking at 56% in mid-April, then slowly declining since. During the first weekend of June, as few as 30% stayed “completely at home.”

The data shows mobility patterns categorized as full-time and part-time work behavior remain lower than normal, as some portion of the workforce continues to work from home and other Coloradans have lost their jobs.

The Colorado Department of Labor reporting hundreds of thousands of initial unemployment claims in the past 12 weeks.

New coronavirus case data shows a slowed spread, with the seven-day average of new cases down to a low not seen since late March, and half of the peak in mid-April.

A team of University of Colorado researchers working with the state has said the social distancing measures helped avoid a bigger surge, but have warned that as restrictions are eased and people return to something closer to normal, cases should be expected to rise again in coming months.

At the same press conference lat Thursday, Polis called accelerating new case counts in Arizona and Utah “a rising cause for concern.”

“We see spiking rates, particularly Arizona, in neighboring states. That’s of concern because there’s a lot of travel back and forth between Colorado and those states,” he said. “We see no evidence yet of that leading to increased transmission on our side of the border, but we watch that and we worry.”

Cases are quickly increasing in Texas as well.

Polis said he’s also concerned about the effect of the large, sustained demonstrations over racial discrimination in policing. New transmissions related to those events, which Polis said are a near certainty, should begin to show up imminently.

He said his administration is monitoring cases to see how much transmission of the virus happened at the protests. He said the question now is whether it’s tens or hundreds of new cases that result.

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