Researchers: Cellular data shows more Mass. residents are traveling farther

Whether it's the beautiful weather or just frustration from weeks of isolation, more New Englanders are venturing outside before social distancing guidelines are lifted.

BOSTON — Whether it’s the beautiful weather or just frustration from weeks of isolation, more New Englanders are venturing outside before social distancing guidelines are lifted.

That’s according to New Mexico research company Descartes Labs, which analyzed cellular data from all over the country.

Mike Warren, the company’s co-founder, said a typical Massachusetts resident reduced their travel by 80 percent at the height of the pandemic.

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But data shows more people are beginning to leave the house more, he said.

“We kind of saw those major changes happen in mid-March where people really traveled less. It stayed pretty steady and low for a month or so after that and has been gradually creeping up,” Warren said.

A chart provided by Descartes Labs indicates residents began traveling further from home in the final days of April, with Barnstable County showing the most distance traveled.

“We’re nowhere near what normal would but it’s certainly larger than it was few weeks ago,” Warren said.

If all this tracking makes you feel uncomfortable, you’re not alone.

“There’s broad concern that privacy is being impinged upon because location data are routinely aggregated and sold, outside the pandemic,” said Dr. Ken Mandl, a physician and researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Dr. Mandl said there are many questions about how our geolocation data is being used, but technology can come in handy during a health crisis.

“In the context of the pandemic, there’s been an effort to try to address how do we maintain privacy while protecting the public health,” Dr. Mandl said.

Warren said the data they collect is already anonymized, and there’s no way Descartes Labs can trace it to an individual or their phone numbers.

“We additionally have some other policies to make sure that any of the data we produce couldn’t be combined with the data other people have in order to track an individual,” Warren said.

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