People in Lakeland and the rest of Polk County aren’t going as far when they leave the house, now that the coronavirus has hit, but we’re still logging longer distances each day than most any other large county in the U.S.

Polk ranked sixth highest among counties over 500,000 population nationwide in distances traveled last Friday, according to an analysis of cellphone location data by The New York Times.

On that day, the average trip in Polk was 2.8 miles. A chart accompanying the article looks at travel for the last month and shows Polk residents traveling heavily on Feb. 28 and gradually tapering off their mileage as the pandemic intensified in the U.S.

Patterns detected in anonymous cellphone data from 15 million people show greatly reduced travel in states where stay-at-home measures have been in place longer, The Times reported.

In those places, concentrated largely in the Midwest, Northeast and West, average daily travel reduced to less than a mile from a typical U.S. average of about five miles.

That reduction can help reduce the spread of the coronavirus that produces the COVID-19 disease, experts told The Times.

Six of the counties with heaviest travel are in Florida. In order, they are Duval, Polk, Volusia, Brevard, Pasco, and Hillsborough.

A safer-at-home order from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis goes into effect at midnight tonight.

Because Florida delayed a slowdown on travel, the state will struggle more to control the spread of COVID-19 since people who have been out and about may have brought the disease home, Thomas Hladish, an infectious disease modeler at the University of Florida, told The Times.

The Times’ location data came from Cuebiq, a data intelligence firm.

A note at the end of the article prompted several readers who commented on the article to say that the method used makes rural areas look less compliant since distances to services are usually higher.

The note at the end of the article said: Note: Cuebiq calculated distance traveled by measuring a line between opposite corners of a box drawn around the locations observed for each person on each day. The travel for each county is the median of these per-person distances. Many states and counties have taken control measures, such as closing restaurants or beaches, that were not included in this analysis.

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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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1 Comment

  1. Interesting that the car pictured in the article “Polk Driving Distances” is going down the center of the road. Poor choice in my opinion.

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