More Americans are breaking stay-at-home orders, researchers find

By Mackenzie Bean for Becker’s Hospital Review

Some health experts are concerned “quarantine fatigue” is setting in for Americans, as cellphone data shows more people are traveling for the first time since shelter-in-place orders took effect in mid-March, reports The Washington Post.

Researchers at the University of Maryland in College Park have been tracking data from more than 100 million cellphones monthly to assess travel behavior amid the pandemic. Researchers presume someone is staying home if their cellphone does not move at least a mile per day.

The week of April 13 marked the first time researchers saw a decrease in the amount of people presumed to be staying home. On April 17, the national average was 31 percent, down from 33 percent the Friday prior. The average number of personal daily trips, trips between counties and out-of-state travel also increased during the week of April 13.

Up to this point, the average percentage of Americans staying home either increased or remained stable.

These fluctuations, which may look small on paper, are actually statistically significant since the study’s sample size is so large, according to lead author Lei Zhang, PhD, director of the Maryland Transportation Institute at the University of Maryland.

“We saw something we hoped wasn’t happening, but it’s there,” Dr. Zhang told the Post. “It seems collectively we’re getting a little tired. It looks like people are loosening up on their own to travel more.”

It’s too soon to know whether these findings will be a continued trend or just a one-week blip, according to Wilbur Chen, MD, an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

To read hospital leaders’ messages to those who are struggling to maintain social distancing, click here.

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