Covid-19: Americans reduce visits to essential stores; not to parks, beaches

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on October 22, 2020

The researchers examined how total movements changed at the county level, following local shelter-in-place orders.

Densely populated counties saw more pronounced fall in essential trips; maybe due to better home-delivery services and people being more aware of the threat

A new study on adherence to Covid-19 guidelines and social distancing in the US revealed that Americans have strongly reduced their visits to grocery stores, pharmacies, and transit stations following stay-at-home orders. However, their visits to parks and beaches have not been reduced.

The study was carried by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. It was published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning.

For the study, the researchers analysed publicly available Google data based on anonymised mobility information from millions of Android, iPhone, and Google Maps users in the US to destinations, including grocery stores, rail stations, and parks.

Also read: Stay at home orders due to Covid reduced noise exposure significantly: Study

The researchers examined how total movements changed at the county level, following local shelter-in-place orders.

Ironically, they found comparatively significant reductions in visits to “essential” destinations, including grocery stores but effectively no reduction in “non-essential” visits to parks and other outdoor recreational spots.

Their findings also revealed that in counties classified as densely populated, reductions to essential trips were even more pronounced.

Study senior author Shima Hamidi, Bloomberg Assistant Professor of American Health, said in a statement: “The main challenge of compliance with stay-at-home orders in dense and compact areas doesn’t seem to relate to ‘essential’ trips to grocery stores, pharmacies, and transit stations — trips that people in these areas seemed quite willing to reduce.”

Hamidi added: “This could be due to access to better services such as home-delivery grocery shopping in dense areas. Also, recent evidence shows that residents of dense places are more likely to adhere to the stay-at-home order, being more cognizant of the threat.”

The study, considering over 771 counties, showed that trips to grocery stores and pharmacies following lockdowns was 13.3 per cent below the local baseline averages established in January and February. Trips to transit stations stayed 37.4 per cent below the baseline.

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In contrast, trips to parks, beaches, and other outdoor recreational spots were only 0.4 per cent below the baseline.

Hamidi suggests that park and beach visits may not have declined because they were allowable under many stay-at-home mandates.

Published on October 22, 2020

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