How well are people social distancing?

By Mackenzi Klemann -

LIMA — Ohioans are spending more time at home and less time traveling to work or non-essential errands, Google mobility trends show, suggesting that large segments of the population are complying with social distancing guidelines despite calls to relax the state’s stay-at-home order.

While some of those changes in behavior may not be voluntary — more than 850,000 Ohioans have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic — the data show how Ohio’s various restrictions have resulted in behavioral changes that public health experts credit with lowering the rate of infections since the novel coronavirus was first detected in the state.

The data come from a new Google report tracking anonymized cellphone location data in counties across the U.S., which compare mobility trends between late February and mid-April, when social distancing measures first took effect, to the first five weeks of 2020.

Ohioans on average have spent 12% more time at home since late February than they did during the first five weeks in 2020. Trips to restaurants, shopping malls, libraries and other indoor recreational areas fell by 41% in that time period. Likewise, Ohioans traveled to workplaces less often and spent significantly more time outdoors, Google mobility trends show.

Those trends varied by county but were fairly consistent in northwest Ohio.

A recent Gallup survey found that 71% of Americans wanted to wait to see what happens with the novel coronavirus outbreak before resuming normal activities, while 20% wanted to reopen non-essential businesses immediately and 10% wanted to continue to limit social activities indefinitely.

The survey, conducted April 3-5, found a slight increase in support for social distancing compared to the previous week.

“From what I have seen, people are cooperating with the stay-at-home orders,” said Kim Rieman, Putnam County health commissioner. The county recently reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19, one of the last counties to do so.

Rieman said she understands people would like to get back to work as soon as possible, but she cautioned that any efforts to restart the economy should rely on science. She said social distancing should continue even as the number of new cases in Ohio starts to level off.

“There’s a backside to that curve,” said Dr. Dennis Morris, chief clinical officer for Lima Memorial Health System, “and if we don’t continue with the efforts that we’ve been doing — social distancing, good hygiene, those types of things — then there’s a strong likelihood you’ll see that curve start to inch back up. That would certainly be the wrong direction.”

By Mackenzi Klemann

Mackenzi Klemann is a reporter with The Lima News. Reach her at 567-242-0456.

Mackenzi Klemann is a reporter with The Lima News. Reach her at 567-242-0456.

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