On Thursday, The New York Times published a story suggesting that the South is uniquely dangerous for the spread of the coronavirus. Michael Barbaro, host of the Times podcast "The Daily," shared the map with the text, "In a word....The South." Yet both the NYT article and Barbaro's tweet ignored basic realities about American life that help explain the reasons behind the map — and show that the South is not a uniquely dangerous region during this crisis.
In the article, "Where America Didn't Stay Home Even as the Virus Spread," James Glanz dissects cellphone location data from the data intelligence firm Cuebiq. Cuebiq tracked 15 million people's cellphone locations to map travel patterns across America. The resulting map does indeed suggest southerners continued to travel more than two miles even as states and local governments were issuing stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of coronavirus.
"Disease experts who reviewed the results say those reductions in travel — to less than a mile a day, on average, from about five miles — may be enough to sharply curb the spread of the coronavirus in those regions, at least for now," Glanz reports. Yet he admits the data "cannot predict where outbreaks will spread, and it does not track how many interactions people had while they were traveling. Not all travel is problematic: A person driving for a few miles to pick up groceries would not be violating stay-at-home orders. And people in cities can infect others without traveling far."
Even so, Glanz cites researchers who supposedly faulted the South for supposedly enabling the spread of the virus more than other regions. "But broadly higher levels of travel suggest more contact with others and more chances to spread or contract the disease, researchers said. Counties with lax travel policies risk not only becoming the next hot spots of the disease, but also acting as reservoirs for the virus that reignite infection in places that have tamped it down, they said."