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Tracking movement in Wisconsin, leading up to latest health order

Published: Oct. 6, 2020 at 10:09 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A ‘mobility map’ out of UW-Madison tracks how Wisconsin came to be the “nation’s COVID-19 hot spot,” according to Governor Tony Evers.

Tuesday, the governor issued the latest emergency order, which caps indoor capacity at 25 percent. He told reporters, “This is one of those rare occasions where staying away is actually the best way to show just how much you care about your loved ones and your friends.”

The order cites, Wisconsin is the state with the third highest number of new coronavirus cases in the past seven days (17,641 cases).

“Today, we are in a worse place than we were in March, and so we need to think like that again,” Andrea Palm, secretary-designee of Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services, said.

Song Gao, assistant professor of geography at UW-Madison, showed that in March, movement in Wisconsin was at a steady low, correlating with the governor’s Safer at Home order.

“We actually responded very strongly,” he said. “Most of the counties in Wisconsin followed the guidance.”

Gao has been tracking mobility across the country through anonymous cell phone data. Since March, he has published the data points online. Since the expiration of the Safer at Home order, Gao said mobility, measured by the median of maximum travel distance over time, has increased. The record high was on Labor Day.

The order limiting indoor capacity takes effect Thursday. Whether Wisconsin’s movement will decrease as a result of the order—Gao predicts, we’ll see a mix.

“I think we really like the outdoors,” he said, describing how he expects Wisconsinites to travel to see the fall colors. “In that case, you can still see an increase in mobility. But for the indoor activity, because you don’t really make trips to the indoor services, food services, restaurants or bars, I think that will definitely reduce the mobility index.”

The emergency order on indoor capacity has a few exceptions, including long-term care facilities and public infrastructure operations, such as food production and distribution, airports and utilities.

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