The longer the “stay home, stay safe” order continues, the more residents of St. Joseph County begin to ignore it. 

No need to count cars on the road or in parking lots. The University of Maryland has developed the COVID-19 impact analysis platform, which provides data and insight regarding COVID-19’s impact on mobility, economy and society for all states and counties. 

Metrics are produced based on validated computational algorithms and privacy-protected data from mobile devices and other sources, the university explained. 

It started as part of a transportation study monitoring cell phone locations and changes provided through the carriers anonymously, so people cannot be identified. 

The university developed an index of 0 to 100 to represent the extent residents and visitors are practicing social distancing. A “0” indicates no social distancing is observed in the community, while “100” indicates all residents are staying at home and no visitors are entering the county. 

On April 4, the index for St. Joseph County was a 59. By April 18, it had dropped slightly to 55. Last weekend, the index was 24. 

The study also measured those who stayed within one mile of their home. On April 4, 33% of those in the county were staying put. But by April 18, it slipped to 30% and fell to 19% by May 2. 

The number of trips per person has increased from 2.7 per person of those with phones April 4, then rose to 3.7 on May 2.  

The percentage of those traveling out-of-county rose from 22.8% on April 4 to 28% April 18, then to 31% on May 2. The number of miles traveled per person rose from 20.8 miles, to 21.2 April 18 and was 30.6 on May 2. 

Work trips per person was a consistent “2,” based on the total population of 61,043 people on all the dates, which was after the massive layoffs caused by the pandemic shutdown. 

Compare St. Joseph County to Oakland County near Detroit, where there are massive numbers of COVID-19 cases. On May 1, it had an index of compliance of 53. There, 33% of the population of 1.2 million are staying home. Non-work trips are 2.6 per person, with only 0.2 traveling for work. 

There are 7,518 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in Oakland County, with 757 deaths. For St. Joseph, the number was 68 confirmed cases, with two deaths, as of Sunday. 

The conclusion was the University of Maryland study is, after about two weeks into the pandemic, social distancing measures stopped improving despite skyrocketing COVID-19 case numbers and government stay-at-home orders, thus experiencing “Social Distancing Inertia.” 

“The percentage of people staying home nationwide rapidly increased from 20% to 35% in the week of March 15 at the onset of COVID-19 and then has stagnated at 35% for three weeks as of April 10,” the report stated. 

Now, with states easing the lockdown, the number of people “social distancing” diminishes as the number of COVID-19 cases grows, although at a lesser rate than in March. 

The study concludes: “Government advisories and stay-at-home orders have not accomplished expected change in mobility behavior, according to our data analysis. Those who are able to adopt social distancing practices have already done so before government intervention.”

It indicated those who cannot or do not want to stay at home show significant "behavior inertia" and render government stay-at-home orders much less effective than expected.