Cellphone data: Hawaii residents better than others at staying home during pandemic

According to cellphone data, Hawaii appears to be one of the best states in the nation at complying with stay-at-home orders.

By recording smartphone GPS data, telecommunications companies have access to endlessly updating logs of where phone users have spent their time — data which some companies, including Google, have used to determine which countries, states and counties are most assiduously avoiding public places.


According to a report by Google, cellphone location data at retail and recreation services fell by 48% throughout the state between March 19 and April 30, compared to a baseline established before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Similarly, attendance at grocery and pharmacy locations, parks and workplaces declined by 25%, 57% and 46%, respectively during the same period.

Hawaii County residents did slightly better than the state in most categories, with a 51% reduction at retail, and a 68% reduction at parks.

Comparatively, the City and County of Honolulu had reductions of only 44% and 48% in the same categories.

The state was trending above the national average, which has seen retail attendance drop by 34%, grocery by 9%, and parks by only 7%.

Another company tracking social distancing trends, Unacast, graded Hawaii’s adherence to social distancing as a C+, indicating about a 55% reduction in average mobility, nonessential visits and density of interpersonal encounters.

Hawaii County received a B- grade, indicating about a 65% reduction.

These grades placed Hawaii’s social isolation compliance at fifth-best in the nation, behind Nevada, Vermont, New Mexico and Arizona. Hawaii County is within Unacast’s top 25% of counties nationwide.

“It is amazing what Google and these companies can do,” Lt. Gov. Josh Green said at a press conference Wednesday. “Sometimes even a little scary.”


Green said the state has considered using similar geo-tracking technology to better track and enforce visitors to the island to ensure that they comply with the state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Email Mike Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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