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Harford ranks middle of the pack on social distancing score

This screenshot of data analysis firm Unacast's social distancing scoreboard shows the social distancing grades for each Maryland county, ranking preventative measures based on data extrapolated from over 10 million anonymous mobile phones.
This screenshot of data analysis firm Unacast's social distancing scoreboard shows the social distancing grades for each Maryland county, ranking preventative measures based on data extrapolated from over 10 million anonymous mobile phones. (Courtesy Unacast)

Harford County earned a C from a company evaluating social distancing measures taken throughout the U.S. in response to the spread of coronavirus.

The data analysis firm Unacast has compiled the number of recorded COVID-19 cases — county by county — for Maryland and other states, contextualizing them with measures of how far people travel and the number of visits to non-essential venues they make. The result is a social distancing scoreboard, which ranks states and counties’ preventative measures based on data extrapolated from over 10 million anonymous mobile phones.

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The phones’ location data is collected when they download apps or interface with GPS, mobile device Bluetooth connections, and Wi-Fi connections, the company’s privacy statement says. Then, app designers, data aggregation services and other companies provide the data to Unacast, which fashions it into a tool for analytics or, in this case, public health awareness.

The score’s goal, the company said in a news release, is to help guide response to and planning for the virus, which has infected close to 380,000 people in the U.S. alone, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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For Harford County, the scoreboard’s data shows a 40% to 55% decline in average mobility and a corresponding 60% to 65% change in non-essential visits, closely reflecting the state’s aggregate score. The state’s average decline in distance traveled is 40% to 55% with a 60% to 65% decrease in non-essential visits. It, too, earned a C as a final grade.

Director of Harford County’s Office of Governmental and Community Relations Cindy Mumby said that, while the county has not verified Unacast’s data, it is encouraging residents to stay indoors and follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines.

"We would continue to encourage our citizens to follow guidelines from the CDC,” she said. “The public health experts say this is an important way to reduce spread.”

According to the scoreboard’s methodology, change in average distance traveled is a strong starting point to collect and analyze the data, though the model is still evolving to include new metrics. Change in average distance traveled accounts for key shifts in behavior like working from home, avoiding nonessential trips and canceling travel, which contribute to social distancing efforts.

“The more cases are confirmed, the greater the decrease in the average distance traveled on the county level,” the methodology states.

That, generally, appears to be true as some Maryland counties with higher numbers of cases appear to be experiencing a dip in average distance traveled. Montgomery County has seen a 55% to 75% decline in average distance traveled as of April 3 — a greater reduction than the state’s average — though Prince George’s County reflects a 40% to 55% decrease in distance traveled over that same time. Together, the two counties represent approximately 43% of Maryland’s confirmed cases.

And other counties are showing greatly decreased average travel. Howard County clocks in at a 40% to 55% decrease in average distance traveled, along with a 60% to 70% decrease in nonessential visits. Baltimore City and County, too, have seen decreases equal to the state’s average decline in mobility — 40% to 55%.

The only county in the state rated above B is Worchester County, earning an A- for a 55% to 70% percent decrease in average mobility and an over 70% decline in non-essential visits, according to the data.

Seven Maryland counties have a D or lower score and are concentrated in Western Maryland and on the Eastern Shore. Cecil County is one, rated D- and showing a 25% to 40% decrease in average mobility and a less than 55% decrease in non-essential visits. It has 37 confirmed cases, according to Unacast’s data.

Nationwide, Wyoming is the only state with an F score in the country and has 210 cases reported across the state, according to the data.

As of Tuesday morning, the Maryland Department of Health recorded 4,371 cases of novel coronavirus in the state, and the number of deaths exceeded 100. Harford County reported 59 confirmed cases and no deaths Tuesday.

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