How COVID-19 Impacted Mobility in California

Analysis of cell phone location tracking data shows changes in how Californians have moved around since the pandemic.

April 7, 2021, 10:00 AM PDT

By clementkhlau @clemusc


COVID-19 Restrictions

The Santa Monica Pier on March 23, 2020. | BrittanyNY / Shutterstock

How have the mobility patterns of California changed since March 2020 due to the pandemic? Mobile phone location data can help to answer this question. As reported by Phillip Reese, Google has compiled large amounts of cell phone location tracking data as part of its ongoing effort to help leaders around the world to gauge the impact of COVID-related closures and travel restrictions. Collected from phones with location trackers enabled, the mobility logs show patterns of trip frequency—available at national, state and regional levels—in daily snapshots from early 2020 through early March 2021. The baseline for comparison in terms of trip frequency is the first five weeks of 2020, before California and the United States initiated broad COVID-related restrictions.

Some of the key findings of this analysis are:

  • In the early weeks of 2021, Californians are staying home way more than we did in our pre-pandemic life. 
  • Californians are using cars rather than resuming pre-COVID commute patterns on public transit, i.e. buses and trains, which is a trend with troubling implications for transit services and the environment should it become long-standing.
  • As of early March 2021, travel for retail and restaurants was back to 26% below the baseline, while grocery and pharmacy trips were 11% below.
  • Work-related travel showed the most sustained disruption, at 33% below the baseline.
  • Californians are heading out to shop, dine, and work far more now than in March 2020, when the state issued its first sweeping stay-at-home order.

Please read the source article for more details, including informative graphs and maps.

Monday, March 15, 2021 in U.S. News & World Report

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