Social distancing is an essential tactic to prevent the spread of coronavirus but also the most difficult to practice, especially in cities. Urban planners design cities to make it easier, not more difficult, for people to access public spaces like parks, malls, office buildings, and restaurants.
Maintaining a six-foot distance is difficult in cities, especially the largest urban centers. American cities are designed to bring us together in public places like arenas, office buildings, restaurants, and shopping malls. Where they have the cooperation of local businesses, local government, and most residents, some cities are going a better job of requiring social distancing than others.
The combination of urban design and local attitudes makes it easier to practice social distancing in some cities than others. Based on data from Unacast, a human mobility data company that uses maintains a “social distancing scoreboard” by state and county. Unacast makes its rankings based on three measurements of local mobility data before and after the arrival of the pandemic:
- Percent change in average distance traveled,
- Percent change in non-essential visitation and
- A decrease in human encounters.
Here is a ranking of the top five urban counties in the nation by their Unacast ratings, which emphasize the changes made in local human mobility before and after the arrival of the pandemic. Most of the nation’s 100 largest urban counties scored an “F” for their lack of progress towards reducing visits and travel between March and mid-June.
*Disclaimer: Cities ranked using reports published at time of publication. City rankings can be subjected to change on Unacast.com*
New York County, New York (Manhattan)
It may seem odd that the county that is home to Manhattan leads the list of America’s best cities for social distancing, but the data speak for themselves. Since the pandemic arrived, New York County has reduced average mobility per person by 40% to 55% based on distance traveled. It has also achieved a 70 percent-plus reduction in non-essential visits and a 40% reduction in encounter density compared to the national baseline.
The nation’s capital comes in second for social distancing. Washington, D.C. achieved a 55% reduction in average mobility per person and a 65% reduction in non-essential visits. They have been later to phase their “re-opening” than their neighboring states as well, just starting to enter phase two in mid-June.
Suffolk County, Massachusetts (Boston)
Governor Baker banned public gatherings and closed schools on March 17, and schools closed for the year. He issued a stay-at-home advisory that was in effect from March 23 to May 18. On March 27, he urged out-of-state visitors to self-quarantine for 14 days. Massachusetts began a four-phase reopening process on May 18 and Suffolk County achieved a 55% reduction in average mobility and a 70% reduction in non-essential meals.
Santa Clara County, California (San Jose)
The home of Silicon Valley, Santa Clara County, implemented a three-month shelter-in-place order that wasn’t lifted until June 5. It closed its malls, restaurants, outdoor swimming pools, and other recreational facilities for three months. With no reason to leave home except to buy essentials, the average resident reduced mobility by 40% and non-essential visits by 60%.
Honolulu County, Hawaii (Honolulu)
Staying quarantined for two weeks in beautiful Honolulu doesn’t sound like fun. All out-of-state visitors who arrived after March 26 have been quarantined, and the order will remain in effect at least through August 1 because it has helped to keep the state’s 728 confirmed cases and 17 deaths. Quarantines for Inter-island travel ended June 16. Hawaii’s travel policies reduced average mobility by 40% to 55%.
States and local jurisdictions will continue to manage their responses to the pandemic at a local level. Even after shutdown orders are lifted, public health officials urge residents to keep travel to a minimum, avoid crowds, wear masks and maintain a six-foot distance from others.