As more Wisconsinites leave home, health experts warn against ending social distancing

Data Shows Increased Movement Of Residents After 1 Month Of State’s ‘Safer At Home’ Order
By Hope Kirwan
Wisconsin Public Radio
May 1, 2020

New data shows Wisconsinites might be growing less compliant with social distancing measures meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. But public health researchers say “quarantine fatigue” isn’t a reason to give up on the restrictions.

Song Gao, a geography professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has been aggregating cell phone data that shows how far Wisconsinites are traveling each day as a way to understand if residents are following the state’s “Safer At Home” order. Gao said residents’ mobility has been reduced significantly in the past month, especially in urban areas like Dane and Milwaukee counties.

But he has seen increased movement around Wisconsin starting last week

“I think this is also linked with last week’s events. Like people started getting (outside) and also last Friday, they also had some protests outside the state Capitol,” Gao said.

The change follows a trend across the country, with cell phone data showing more people leaving their homes and becoming less strict about social distancing.

Amanda Simanek, professor of epidemiology at UW-Milwaukee, said there are many reasons why people might be less vigilant about staying home.

“I think those feelings of fatigue are natural. But what we have to remember is that part of the reason why things are going as well as they are is because of the social distancing. We look to New York and we think, ‘That’s not happening here. We’re not maxed out of hospital capacity, so why is this important? Why do I need to be doing this?’ And obviously, there’s just the realistic fatigue of people working from home,” Simanek said. “I think those feelings of fatigue are natural. But what we have to remember is that part of the reason why things are going as well as they are is because of the social distancing.”

Simanek said people might be tempted to start bending the rules, especially if they’re young or healthy. She said those incidents can have a real impact on the continued spread of the disease within a community.

“What about the person who you grocery shopped next to? What about the coffee you snuck in with your neighbor? Those are those opportunities for the infection to spread and it may be that you’re fine due to that infection but others won’t be,” Simanek said. “It really defeats the purpose of these stringent social distancing measures that we’re taking.”

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