Tweets show Americans are following Covid-19 precautions

An analysis of Twitter data suggests that Americans are heeding physical distancing and other safety recommendations during the coronavirus pandemic, researchers say.

Officials have told people to limit travel, stay home and distance themselves to slow the spread of the virus.

"The question though is how effective are these policies? Once you tell people to stay home, it doesn't mean everyone listens," said research leader Mark Dredze, a computer scientist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

"It's important for us to understand on an ongoing basis if people are actually listening to these directives," he said in a Hopkins news release.

Firm physical distancing

But how do experts know people are staying put? For this study, they used location data from Twitter.

It showed that the movement of Americans between March 16 and 29 was 52% of what it was between 1 January 2019 and 16 March 2020.

People's movements in some states didn't fall as much as in other states, particularly states with firm physical distancing measures, according to the researchers.

The analysis of nearly 400 tweets by 3.7 million users found the greatest reductions in movement in Washington, D.C. (63%); Alaska (62.5%); Washington state (58.8%); New Jersey (58.3%), and Maryland (57.6%).

The smallest reductions in movement were in Wyoming (21.5%); Oklahoma (30.9%); Mississippi (35.4%): Iowa (36%), and Idaho (36.4%).

Similar research has been conducted by others, including Google.

Fed up with staying at home

"A key advantage in our analysis is that the underlying Twitter data is publicly available, so others can study additional aspects of physical distancing," said David Broniatowski, an associate professor in School of Engineering and Applied Science at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

The researchers plan to update results over the coming weeks and months.

"We want to continue to track this to see if people's movement will continue to drop or if people will get fed up with staying home and start moving around again," Dredze said. "Understanding these behaviours will be important for decision-makers and public health researchers."

READ | Wuhan study shows how social distancing to curb the spread of coronavirus is saving lives

READ | How 4 US cities helped slow coronavirus spread

READ | A funeral, a birthday and 3 deaths: 'super spreader' events show why physical distancing is key

Image credit: Drew Coffman, Unsplash
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