Based on cellphone location data, the New York Times was able to draw a map of where and when people started complying with coronavirus stay-at-home orders. The answer is infuriating:
The map doesn’t look this way because people in the South are idiots. It’s almost certainly because they’re conservative and they watch a lot of Fox News. They also listen to President Trump. And Rush Limbaugh. And what they heard was that the coronavirus was “just a bad cold.” That “within a couple of days it’s going to be down to close to zero.” That the hysteria was nothing but a “new hoax” from Democrats who want to bring down the president.
For weeks that’s what they heard. And they believed it. And so they resisted taking it seriously. That’s starting to shift now that Trump and the conservative noise machine have changed their tune, but it’s several weeks too late. What a shameful performance.
UPDATE: A lot of commenters are suggesting that this map has nothing to do with COVID-19. All it’s really showing is that in the South you generally have to travel several miles just to get to a grocery store. So even if residents are staying home, cellphone location data will show them traveling more than two miles just because they’re buying food.
I’m not sure that makes much sense, since both the Midwest and mountain West on this map are mostly green even though they’re much more sparsely populated than the South. Here’s a map showing the distribution of grocery stores throughout the country:
And here’s a map from the USDA showing areas with “low access” to grocery stores:
This isn’t definitive, but the South seems to have a fairly normal density of grocery stores for its population, and it’s actually better than most areas on access to grocery stores. There are lots of other areas of the country that are more sparsely populated and require longer driving distances, but it’s only in the South that people are still doing it. Grocery shopping just isn’t the answer here.