Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – The new Mexicans substantially reduced their trips to restaurants, grocery stores and parks amid a corona virus outbreak, according to mobility data analyzed by Google.
In fact, they generally cut their trips more than people in Arizona, Utah and Oklahoma.
But New Mexico still trails the country as a whole in limiting travel outdoors – far behind Colorado and only slightly worse than Texas, Google data show.
The mixed rate came when Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham continued to tighten requirements for social distance in New Mexico and called on residents to stay home for all but important outings.
“We all need to do more to protect our families and protect the citizens of New Mexico,” Lujan Grisham said at a public briefing last week.
Overall, Google’s data estimates that people in New Mexico have reduced their trips to restaurants, theaters and retail sites by 44% and their visits to grocery stores and pharmacies by 18%. The data compares one day at the end of March with a baseline of activities for the same day at the beginning of the year, before the pandemic triggers home stay orders in the United States.
Data shows New Mexico’s trips to the park and workplace are also down.
“I think the people here in New Mexico have taken this seriously,” said state Senator Liz Stefanics, a Democratic Cerrillos whose district covers parts of six districts, from Pecos to Capitan. “The people here are quite good at looking after each other.”
Google data is based on consumers who use Google Maps or share their location history through their Google account. The company said the data was collected and anonymous.
Movement data only represent a sample of users, Google said, depending on their account settings and internet connectivity. This may not reflect the wider population.
The baseline was built based on data from 3 January to 6 February. Newer data is based on one day at the end of March.
A closer look
New Mexico health officials are working with a Santa Fe-based company, Descartes Labs, on their own analysis of how well people in the state obey instructions to stay at home.
David Scrase, secretary of the state’s Human Services Department, said health officials needed access to the underlying data to draw meaningful conclusions, rather than just looking at what Google released.
Specific concerns, he said, are evaluating whether movement data is taking people driving through the country – a trip that is not useful to check how new Mexicans respond to stay-at-home instructions. Google did not discuss in its report how it would handle such a trip.
Scrase said preliminary data from Descartes Labs showed the country still lacked a purpose.
“What we think we see is that about 60% of New Mexico residents do a great job of limiting their mobility,” he said, “and another 40% are not doing well. To limit the spread of viruses, we need 85% to significantly limit their mobility. “
Google’s data, however, shows a big difference in changes in mobility across the states.
Torrance County, for example, experienced a 24% decrease in trips to restaurants and retail sites, according to Google, while Los Alamos experienced a 70% reduction.
But the researchers cautioned against drawing conclusions based on their respective countries. Google data for small countries tends to be less reliable because it involves fewer people and tracks locations, said Jeffrey Mitchell, director of the Bureau of Business & Economic Research at the University of New Mexico.
Mitchell estimates that New Mexico is ranked 33rd nationally in terms of reduced mobility, based on Google data he reviewed.
Torrance County manager Wayne Johnson, for his part, said he was pleased with the way Torrance County residents responded to the pandemic. Calls for emergency services were down, he said, a sign that people were not panicking.
“Such social distance is built for our way of life to begin,” Johnson said in an interview.
Representative Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, said she was not surprised Los Alamos would reduce travel substantially. The community – the site of the Los Alamos National Laboratory – is home to experts who like to explain the importance of staying at home, he said.
“This has to do with the recognition that facts and scientific information are important,” Chandler said, “and people are paying attention to that.”
Lujan Grisham, a Democrat and former health secretary, has aggressively urged people to limit their contact with others to slow the spread of COVID-19, a disease caused by a new coronavirus.
Since declaring a March 11 public health emergency, the Lujan Grisham government has ordered the closure of schools and businesses that are not essential, limited restaurants to take home and delivery, and banned public gatherings of more than five people.
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