Covid-19 update: Florida spring breakers’ phones show vast spread
Coronavirus update: On Sunday, the total number of cases in the United States rose beyond 124,000 — 62 times the 2,000 confirmed infections in the country on March 13, when US President Donald Trump announced the epidemic is a national emergency.Updated: Mar 30, 2020 04:53 IST
People in the United States continued with their usual activities — travelling between cities, going to work and school, and even celebrating Spring Break on beaches — while the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) continued to grow around them, cellphone location data from mid-March has shown, demonstrating how the country squandered away the initial days when social distancing may have contained the disease.
On Sunday, the total number of cases in the United States rose beyond 124,000 — 62 times the 2,000 confirmed infections in the country on March 13, when US President Donald Trump announced the epidemic is a national emergency.
In the weeks leading up to March 13, thousands of college-goers from across the country’s central and eastern parts, descended upon the sunny beaches of Florida for the annual spring break revelry. From sharing space on a single Fort Lauderdale beach, the phones were tracked back to across the United States, according to a visualisation released by Tectonix GEO.
“Through a partnership with X-Mode, we analyzed secondary locations of anonymized mobile devices that were active at a single Ft Lauderdale beach during spring break,” said Tectonix, while posting the visualisation on Twitter.
The phones – each representing an individual — were seen spreading up to Maine and the eastern coast during the remainder of March, raising the possibility of these people introducing the infections to new locations.
The authorities in Fort Lauderdale cancelled the beach parties on March 14, and it wasn’t until March 27 that stay-at-home orders were issued in the coastal city.
A similar visualisation for New York – which now accounts for 42% of the American infections – shows thousands of people left the city on March 22 to head to cities across the country.
The recorded movement came on a day when total infections in New York state reached 11,000 and nearly a week after the city’s mayor Bill de Blasio ordered the city’s bars, theatres and cinemas to close down on March 16.
In addition to what the data demonstrates about how the potential for the spread of the disease is immense in the absence of lockdowns or effective social distancing, it exposes the level of sensitive private data collected by private firms. X-Mode, the company that collated the location information, describes its services as “industry-leading, powerful location collection technology”.
The company says it can help clients “boost income, utilize location data, and grow your influence network”. Its representatives did not respond to requests for a comment.