Researchers saw a 3 percent decline in social distancing over the last week, for the first time in a month

By Julie Mazziotta
April 28, 2020 12:18 PM
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Americans are growing tired of staying at home and beginning to venture outside more as “quarantine fatigue” sets in, according to researchers who looked at cell phone data from around the country.

People around the U.S. are starting to go outside more often and are traveling farther from their homes, researchers from the Maryland Transportation Institute at the University of Maryland have found after analyzing cell phone location data from the past four months.

In the last week, social distancing has declined by 3 percent — it’s the first time researchers have seen a decline since stay-at-home orders were put in place in March.

Dr. Lei Zhang, director of the Maryland Transportation Institute, said he calls it “quarantine fatigue.”

“It just seems that people are getting a little tired collectively of staying at home after we passed that one-month mark,” he told The New York Times.

The data comes as legislators are either reopening their states or planning to, with the U.S. appearing to be past the peak of the current COVID-19 outbreak. A lower number of case in some areas plus a struggling economy has left Americans hoping to resume some normalcy, and small protests aimed at reopening states have popped up around the country. But even with the decrease in COVID-19 cases and deaths, health experts are warning that a reduction in social distancing could lead to a resurgence in infections.

Zhang said that the cell phone data shows that people are getting impatient.

“What we see right now is that individual Americans — many of them are deciding on their own that they’re going to reopen themselves to go out more,” he told NBC News. “It’s just a major shift as the nation fights the pandemic.”

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In California, for example, as temperatures soared into the 90s and residents filled the beaches to cool down over the last week, the percentage of people staying home dropped from 37 to 35. Across the country in New York, the state with the largest outbreak, the percentage of people staying home went from 49 to 45.

And the largest declines occurred in Southern states where legislators are reopening businesses, such as Georgia, Florida and South Carolina. Louisiana and North Carolina had the biggest increases in activity, with a 9 percent jump in people leaving their homes.

Zhang recommended that state and local governments make it clear to residents that the decline in cases does not mean that infection is no longer possible.

“The moment people start seeing the curves flattening, the number of cases start dropping or holding steady, that gives people a false sense of safety,” he told the Times.

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