Few leave home in Wis. af­ter or­der lifts

Data: Court’s re­open rul­ing had lit­tle im­pact

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - John Diedrich, Daphne Chen, Matt Wynn and Dan Keemahill

Shortly af­ter the Wis­con­sin Supreme Court over­turned Gov. Tony Evers’ stay- home or­der last week, pic­tures of peo­ple drink­ing in bars ric­o­cheted around so­cial me­dia, cre­at­ing the im­pres­sion among some that the state was wide- open for busi­ness.

The photos made public health officials cringe be­cause of the risk of spread­ing COVID- 19, but did they rep­re­sent what was hap­pen­ing in busi­nesses across Wis­con­sin?

Data gleaned from mil­lions of cell­phone sig­nals sug­gests a differ­ent pic­ture.

There was an over­all uptick in the num­ber of res­i­dents leav­ing their homes in the hours and days af­ter the or­der and a jump in restau­rant and bar vis­its, an analysis by the Mil­wau­kee Jour­nal Sen­tinel and USA TO­DAY shows. But the over­all in­crease statewide was small and is con­sis­tent with a trend to­ward greater move­ment that started more than a month ago, ac­cord­ing to the analysis.

Wis­con­sin’s ex­pe­ri­ence in lift­ing quar­an­tine sud­denly and with­out warn­ing is of keen in­ter­est as states across the coun­try weigh how quickly to ease COVID- 19 re­stric­tions. Cell­phone data pro­vided by San Fran­cis

co- based Safe­Graph pro­vides unique in­sights into what hap­pened on the ground im­me­di­ately af­ter the court’s rul­ing May 13.

Since reach­ing peak lev­els of com­pli­ance in the se­cond week of April, peo­ple in Wis­con­sin have been leav­ing home more and more of­ten – even when Evers’ or­der was in place.

That same trend to­ward more move­ment has been hap­pen­ing in other states, the analysis shows. It’s a phe­nom­e­non ex­perts at­tribute to “quar­an­tine fa­tigue” and the re­lax­ing of gov­ern­ment- im­posed stay- at- home or­ders.

The Safe­Graph data an­a­lyzed by the Jour­nal Sen­tinel and USA TO­DAY is based on the daily recorded move­ments of more than 16 mil­lion cel­lu­lar de­vices. The data does not say to whom the phones be­long.

Ex­perts cau­tioned that not ev­ery­one has a cell­phone, so the data misses peo­ple.

They also warned about draw­ing con­clu­sions from the data in the days af­ter the court or­der, not­ing daily fluc­tu­a­tions are pos­si­ble and weekly av­er­ages are bet­ter. The Safe­Graph data is cur­rent through Satur­day.

There should be cau­tion about as­sum­ing more move­ment will mean a spike in the spread of COVID- 19, said Ali Mok­dad, a pro­fes­sor of global health at the Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton’s In­sti­tute for Health Met­rics and Eval­u­a­tion, which an­a­lyzes mo­bil­ity us­ing four sources, in­clud­ing Safe­Graph.

Mok­dad noted that move­ment has in­creased in some states while the per­cent­age of peo­ple test­ing pos­i­tive for COVID- 19 has dropped. That sur­prised some re­searchers, who ex­pected an in­crease in mo­bil­ity would lead to higher in­fec­tion rates.

In Wis­con­sin, where move­ment in­creased by 20% in the past five weeks, the per­cent­age of pos­i­tive cases was flat, then trended down, ac­cord­ing to the In­sti­tute for Health Met­rics and Eval­u­a­tion and state data.

There are many fac­tors that might af­fect the per­cent­age of pos­i­tive cases, in­clud­ing who is tested, ac­cord­ing to state officials.

Mok­dad sus­pects one fac­tor is that those peo­ple who are mov­ing more are be­ing care­ful to keep their dis­tance from oth­ers, wear a mask and wash their hands.

“We don’t have all the data we need to un­der­stand this new mo­bil­ity, who is mov­ing and how they are do­ing it,” he said. “The mes­sage is it is too early to tell.”

Busi­nesses re­bound

Af­ter the Supreme Court de­ci­sion, some bars and restau­rants opened im­me­di­ately.

The or­der was is­sued May 13. The data, which can track the move­ment of cell­phones to specific busi­nesses, did not show much of an in­crease that night.

In the days af­ter the or­der, restau­rants and bars ex­pe­ri­enced a change. Be­fore the court or­der, restau­rants saw 44% of their usual traffic. It grew to 54% on the Fri­day af­ter the or­der.

Bars were hit hard by the stay- home or­der. Even those that found a way to stay open – sell­ing food, for in­stance – saw traffic plum­met.

Be­fore the Supreme Court lifted re­stric­tions, bars had 29% of typ­i­cal foot traffic. Af­ter the court or­der, it grew to 47%.

The data show­ing all move­ment statewide, not just bars and restau­rants, was more sub­dued.

In the three days af­ter the or­der, the share of peo­ple leav­ing their homes in Wis­con­sin grew by 3% com­pared with the same three- day pe­riod the week be­fore. That rate was in keep­ing with what the data showed was gen­er­ally hap­pen­ing in other Mid­west­ern states and na­tion­ally.

Through­out the pan­demic, mo­bil­ity has been high­est in the South and low­est in the North­east.

In study­ing the Wis­con­sin num­bers, it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that while many coun­ties opened, busi­nesses in the state’s two largest cities, Mil­wau­kee and Madi­son, largely re­mained closed. Some coun­ties, in­clud­ing Brown County, ini­tially had or­ders stay­ing closed, then quickly dropped them, al­low­ing busi­nesses to open.

Even be­fore the high court acted, the Evers ad­min­is­tra­tion was mov­ing to re­lax cer­tain re­stric­tions, al­low­ing stores to open with lim­ited ca­pac­ity.

Af­ter the rul­ing, Evers tried to is­sue guid­ance through the for­mal rule­mak­ing process, as re­quired by the de­ci­sion, but the effort was re­buffed by Repub­li­cans who con­trol the com­mit­tee han­dling such rules.

Some stayed home be­fore or­der

In Wis­con­sin and other states, as con­cern about COVID- 19 cir­cu­lated in Fe­bru­ary and March, peo­ple be­gan to stay home be­fore gov­ern­ment or­ders were is­sued.

In Wis­con­sin, about 20% of res­i­dents started stay­ing home be­fore Evers’ or­der March 24, cell­phone data shows. The data does not in­clude names or any iden­ti­fy­ing in­for­ma­tion, but re­searchers sus­pect the peo­ple who hun­kered down early are those most at risk – peo­ple over the age of 65 and those of all ages with un­der­ly­ing health is­sues.

Mok­dad said he doesn’t think those who chose to stay home ini­tially are among those mov­ing around now.

“The first peo­ple to stay in the house will be the last to come out,” he said. “They stayed home be­fore there was a so­cial dis­tanc­ing or­der and were afraid. They will stay home un­til there is an all­clear sign.”

In early April, half of Wis­con­sin res­i­dents largely stayed at home. That pe­riod marks the high­est level of com­pli­ance with Evers’ safer- at- home or­der.

In the mid­dle of April, peo­ple be­gan to move. That con­cerned ex­perts at first, but the feared surge in cases has not fol­lowed, though there is still con­cern a sec­ondary wave could come.

Na­sia Saf­dar, an in­fec­tious dis­ease ex­pert with the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin- Madi­son, said fac­tors such as im­proved weather and the end of at- home school­ing in some dis­tricts prob­a­bly contribute­d to a gen­eral trend of in­creased move­ment.

“I think there were things that helped peo­ple stay put in the be­gin­ning of this, which is that there was a lot of fear and un­cer­tainty and the weather wasn’t great,” she said. “I’m sure peo­ple are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some cabin fever de­spite their best in­ten­tions.”

Saf­dar said the trend wor­ries her – par­tic­u­larly the in­creased num­ber of pa­trons at restau­rants – be­cause peo­ple can­not wear masks while eat­ing and drink­ing. “We know that ad­her­ence to phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing is what has helped flat­ten the curve and that ad­her­ence needs to stay,” Saf­dar said. “It can’t be at 100%, of course, but the higher it is, the bet­ter it is.”

Thomas Oliver, a health pol­icy ex­pert at UW- Madi­son, said the in­creased move­ment in Wis­con­sin and mixed mes­sag­ing sent by the patch­work of rules from au­thor­i­ties at all lev­els is con­cern­ing.

“It was in­evitable you would see slip­ping ad­her­ence to the rec­om­mended guide­lines re­gard­less, but now we have so many con­tra­dic­tory and com­pet­ing guide­lines,” he said.

Oguzhan Alagoz, an ex­pert in in­fec­tious dis­ease mod­el­ing at UW- Madi­son, said the pic­tures he saw af­ter the court or­der of un­masked peo­ple stand­ing close to­gether in­side bars are trou­bling, and he warns of more coro­n­avirus cases.

“I still think this will in­crease cases, no one can ar­gue that,” he said shortly af­ter the or­der was is­sued last week. “But I don’t ex­pect to see dou­ble or triple the move­ment, and I don’t see ter­ri­ble ex­po­nen­tial growth in a cou­ple of weeks.”

WIL­LIAM GLASHEEN/ USA TO­DAY NET­WORK

Marvin Radtke toasts the reopening of the Friends and Neighbors bar in Ap­ple­ton, Wis., af­ter the court or­der.

WIL­LIAM GLASHEEN/ USA TO­DAY NET­WORK

Club Ritz opens to pa­trons May 13 in Kaukauna, Wis., af­ter re­stric­tions were struck down.

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