Big Bend counties get subpar grades for coronavirus social distancing, cell phone data shows

Jeff Burlew
Tallahassee Democrat

Leon County and several of its Big Bend neighbors scored Ds and worse — for a time at least — on how well they're social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak.

But their low grades Monday morning improved by afternoon based on more recent data that tech firm Unacast is crunching as part of its nationwide Social Distancing Scoreboard.

The scoreboard uses cell phone data to measure how far people are traveling on average now compared to pre-pandemic days. Counties with the biggest drop in travel score the highest grades.

Leon County had a D as of Monday morning, based on data from March 24, with a modest 14% decrease in travel. It bounced back to a B later in the day with new data showing travel down 30%.

The new and improved numbers for Leon County came from March 26, a day after officials issued a countywide stay-at-home order.

"Recent map data shows how seriously our community has taken the safer-at-home message," said Matt Cavell, assistant to the county administrator. "And like our public health experts recommend, we must all continue to reinforce social and physical distancing. Every single improvement could save a life."

Other Big Bend counties, including Gadsden, Jefferson and Madison, all had Fs Monday morning, though Gadsden and Jefferson improved to Ds with the new numbers. All three counties actually saw travel increases based on March 24 data.

Florida's score overall hovered around a B Monday, down from an A last week.

Pam Saulsby, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health-Leon, shared a link to the Social Distancing Scoreboard in a Monday morning email. She noted that most of the counties with more cases are not moving from their home regions much, though she said there was “less adherence” in North Florida.

“On average, Florida has a B," she said. "Good to see hardest hit counties are taking heed."

Unacast said the scoreboard is designed to raise awareness about the importance of social distancing. The CDC has said the step is the best way to slow COVID-19 outbreak.

Saulsby echoed that message to media outlets.

"Florida’s surgeon general is asking that we work harder to push the Governor’s 'Safer At Home' executive order," she said. "We could use your help."

Florida Big Bend scores

Unacast measures counties and states based on their change in average mobility. Communities get an A for a decrease of more than 40%, a B for a 30-40% drop, a C for a 20-30% decrease, a D for a 10-20% dip and an F for anything less than 10%. Here are Big Bend county grades:

  • Franklin County, C, -28%
  • Gadsden County, D, -11%%
  • Jefferson County, D, -18%
  • Leon County, B, -30%
  • Liberty County, D, -10%
  • Madison County, F, -5%
  • Taylor County, C, -25%
  • Wakulla County, C, -23%

Source: Unacast Social Distancing Scoreboard as of Monday afternoon based on March 26 data.

Contact Jeff Burlew at jburlew@tallahassee.com or follow @JeffBurlew on Twitter.

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