Social-distancing fatigue: Evidence from real-time crowd-sourced traffic data.


Using crowd-sourced traffic congestion data, we described changes in mobility in Manhattan, NYC, during the COVID-19 pandemic. These data can be used to inform human mobility changes during the current pandemic, in planning for responses to future pandemics, and in understanding the potential impact of large-scale traffic interventions such as congestion pricing policies.

We used the movement of individuals around New York City (NYC), measured via traffic levels, as a proxy for human mobility and the impact of social-distancing policies (i.e., work from home policies, school closure, indoor dining closure etc.). By data mining Google traffic in real-time, and applying image processing, we derived high resolution time series of traffic in NYC. We used time series decomposition and generalized additive models to quantify changes in rush hour/non-rush hour, and weekday/weekend traffic, pre-pandemic and following the roll-out of multiple social distancing interventions.

To mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic and prevent overwhelming the healthcare system, social-distancing policies such as school closure, stay-at-home orders, and indoor dining closure have been utilized worldwide. These policies function by reducing the rate of close contact within populations and result in decreased human mobility. Adherence to social distancing can substantially reduce disease spread. Thus, quantifying human mobility and social-distancing compliance, especially at high temporal resolution, can provide great insight into the impact of social distancing policies.

Mobility decreased sharply on March 14, 2020 following declaration of the pandemic. However, levels began rebounding by approximately April 13, almost 2 months before stay-at-home orders were lifted, indicating premature increase in mobility, which we term social-distancing fatigue. We also observed large impacts on diurnal traffic congestion, such that the pre-pandemic bi-modal weekday congestion representing morning and evening rush hour was dramatically altered. By September, traffic congestion rebounded to approximately 75% of pre-pandemic levels.

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