Minnesota’s Border Battles: COVID-19 edition
Last year, I wrote a report titled ‘Minnesota’s Border Battles‘ in which I compared the economic outcomes in Minnesota counties bordering other states with the outcomes in the border counties…
…found a majority of people support the stay-at-home restrictions and business closures they lived under for nearly two months and say they were necessary to limit the spread of the virus in their communities.
In the poll of 800 registered voters — conducted May 18 through May 20 — 57% of respondents said the restrictions are the right approach to prevent the coronavirus from spreading..
These are decent numbers. But talk is cheap. The fact that so many of us now carry around ‘smart’ devices with things like GPS means that our movements can be tracked to a degree unimaginable just a few years ago. When we use this data to see what Minnesotans are actually doing – not what they are telling the pollsters – they have been increasingly ignoring the Governor’s orders.
On March 25th, the Star Tribune reported:
When it comes to social distancing, Minnesota gets an A.
The tech company Unacast analyzed GPS location data from millions of smartphones to track changes in average distances traveled before and after the coronavirus pandemic hit to determine how well residents were adhering to social distancing practices.
The company created a Social Distancing Scoreboard and gave A’s to states and counties that showed a 40% or greater decrease in average distance traveled compared to pre-COVID-19 levels. Those that showed movement declines of 10% or less received an F.
Overall, Minnesota saw a 46% drop in average distance traveled, according to the scoreboard.
But Minnesotans have wavered in their commitment since then. Our grade has now slumped to an F.
Other data sources tell a similar story: an initial, drastic reduction in movement followed by a gradual increase in mobility. And it is notable that all these measures show that Minnesotans started moving about again before the shelter-in-place order (SHO) was lifted on May 18th.
Apple’s Mobility Trends Reports suggest that driving in Minnesota initially plummeted by about 50% but that, as Figure 1 shows, it has now bounced back and is currently 7% above the January 13th baseline level. As Figure 2 shows, the same is true for driving in Minneapolis, which initially fell by about 50% but is now almost back to baseline levels. Walking in Minneapolis is actually about 20% above the baseline. Travel on public transit, however, is still down by 66%.
Source: Apple Mobility Trends Reports
Source: Apple Mobility Trends Reports
Data from SafeGraph tell the same story. Its ‘Shelter in Place Index’ shows “the percent of the population staying home (sheltering in place) each day.” For Minnesota, this index reached a high of 18.76 on April 15th, but, as Figure 3 shows, it has trended downward since then to a low of 10.02 on May 22nd.
A further source supporting this is Cubeiq’s ‘COVID-19 Mobility Insights‘. As Figure 4 illustrates, these show that the percentage of Minnesotans staying at home peaked at 46% on April 3rd. Since then, that share has trended down to 31% on May 24th. April 3rd also saw the share of Minnesotans travelling more than 10 miles hit a low of 22%. That has now trended up to 34% on May 24th.
Figure 4: Share of Minnesotans staying home or travelling
Source: Cubeiq’s COVID-19 Mobility Insights
Another thing that is notable is that, in each case, Minnesotans did not wait for Gov. Walz to issue his SHO on March 25th to curtail their travel. And, in the same way, they didn’t wait for him to lift the SHO on May 18th before they started moving around again. A little while ago I wrote that Gov. Walz might not get to choose when the shutdown ends, Minnesotans might end it for him. Whatever they may be telling the pollsters, they seem to be doing so.
John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment.