Morgan County gets an ‘F’ in social distancing

Staff Written Featured, News

By Tia Lynn Ivey

managing editor 

Morgan County received an “F” rating from Unacast, a group of data scientists and doctors measuring efforts of social distancing to slow the spread of coronavirus. According to Unacast’s national scorecard, which utilizes an A through F grading system, Morgan County earned a failing grade, with surrounding counties also earning low marks and Georgia as a whole receiving a “D+” grade. 

The conclusions are based on reviewing cell phone data from each state and each county across America.  

“Unacast determined a person’s average time spent at home, changes in average distance traveled and other factors, they say relates to social distancing,” explains Unacast’s website. “Unacast gave Georgia a C in social distancing, reporting a 20-30 percent decrease in average distance traveled. According to the World Health Organization and the CDC, social distancing is currently the most effective way to slow the spread of COVID-19. We created this interactive Scoreboard, updated daily, to empower organizations to measure and understand the efficacy of social distancing initiatives at the local level.”

Unacast’s breakdown gives Morgan County an F in ‘Reduction in Average Mobility,” which is based on distance traveled, reporting less than a 25 percent reduction. Unacast also gives Morgan County a failing grade in the reduction of “Non-Essential Visits,” reporting less than a 55 percent reduction. Unacast gave Morgan County a “D” grade in the area of “Encounters Density Compared to National Baseline,” reporting a 40-74 percent decrease.

Surrounding counties did not fare much better, with Walton County earning an F, Newton County earning a D-, Putnam and Rockdale counties earning a D, Jasper earning a D+. Greene, Oconee, and Monroe counties were rated better, each earning a C- in social distancing. These grades reflect the most current update on Tuesday, April 14. 

Unacast explains how they arrived at their grading determinations.  

“To account for natural dispersion, our third metric is change in the number of potential human encounters,” explains a rep from Unacast.  “Since our data can’t tell if two humans actually met, we’re defining ‘potential encounters’ as the probability that two devices that were in the same place at the same time.”

Unacast distinguishes between non-essential and essential outings. “Our current standard is: ‘essential’ comprises grocery, pharmacy, and pet supplies; and ‘non-essential’ comprises all other non-grocery retail goods and services. We recognize that the differentiation between essential and non-essential is not hard-and-fast, nor is it the same in all places, and will update this standard as we learn more,” explained a statement from Unacast. 

However, local leaders believe most citizens and businesses are complying with social distancing policies. 

Morgan County Sheriff Robert Markley reported his county officers have had to break up a few large gatherings, but overall, are experiencing compliance. 

“We have had some large gatherings we have had to address,” said Markley who noted an incident outside of a Rutledge restaurant. 

“The parking lot was full of customers waiting on takeout orders. We had to go break that up and separate people,” said Markley. Markley noted that some churches are continuing to meet in the county, but churches cannot be barred from gathering. Markley noted Union Springs Baptist Church is still holding in person services. 

“But they are social distancing inside and have a nurse out front taking temperatures,” said Markley. 

Overall, from what we are seeing, there are a lot less people on the road than we normally see,” said Markley. “I think the vast majority of people are social distancing and complying. There are some individuals and groups that may be pushing it a little bit, but I think overall, as a general rule, people are complying. 

Madison Police Chief Bill Ashburn noted local law enforcement agents are patrolling parks, city streets and neighborhoods where people tend to gather and haven’t encountered much resistance. 

“Honestly, we are monitoring things like our city parks and city streets where people have a tendency to gather, and we are not having a tremendous amount of complaints or non-compliance,” said Ashburn, who noted all non-essential downtown businesses have complied with shutdown orders and essential stores, such as Walmart and Ingles, are making efforts to facilitate social distancing among employees and customers. 

“People are still getting out of the house, no doubt about it, but most are complying,” said Ashburn. 

Unacast is regularly updating its National Scorecard, recently reducing the lag time from four day down to 12-36 hours, “without sacrificing quality, integrity, accuracy, or privacy.”

Unacast’s aim is  to provide useful information for communities, hoping local leaders will utilize the data to help bring people in compliance with social distancing and mitigation efforts. 

“In response to learning more about behavioral responses to the virus’ spread, and having incorporated additional metrics for increased accuracy, we’ve evolved our A-F scale to continue to provide community leaders with valuable, actionable insights,” said a Uncast rep. The organization encourages local leaders and other to visit the website for more details: www.unacast.com/blog.

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