Editorial: State will reopen sooner if community stays home when possible

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, April 29, 2020

For weeks now, public health officials in Rowan County have been beating the social distancing drum, encouraging people to stay home.

Doing so means fewer opportunities for COVID-19 to spread, which means fewer positive cases and an improvement in metrics that Gov. Roy Cooper and other state officials will use to decide when to “reopen” North Carolina.

Instead of using any extra time going to Lowe’s to get materials for a home improvement project, stay home to enjoy what you have. Read a book. Watch a movie. Call some family members you haven’t spoken to in years. Take a walk near your house.

And most importantly, avoid unnecessary trips to places that tend to draw large numbers of people.

The good news some data clearly show Rowan County residents staying closer to home more so than before the COVID-19 outbreak. A model from the University of Maryland, for example, shows that the number of miles traveled per person per day declined noticeably after March 15, the Sunday before schools closed and e-learning began.

Days earlier, events started to cancel in a hurry and Gov. Cooper encouraged people to limit large gatherings.

In other good news, the same model from the University of Maryland shows the number of miles traveled per person declined after the governor’s stay at home order on March 27.

But even as the number of miles traveled has declined, Rowan County as a whole is largely not staying home. The model’s social distancing index — calculated, in part, using location data from mobile phones — shows a worsening trend since an initial adherence to the intent of the stay-at-home order. If there’s any solace in our social distancing index score of 48 out of 100 (0 being the worst and 100 being the best), it’s that most of our neighboring counties fall around the same range. Stanly County is an exception, with 36 out of 100.

And to be clear the University of Maryland model release this week is not the only one showing Rowan County not staying at home. Unacast, a data company that collects cellphone location data, is more direct, giving Rowan County an “F” for social distancing.

Many folks in Rowan County would say they don’t need a university model or a rating of cellphone data to know people are doing non-essential tasks. There are regular, block-long lines at Krispy Kreme on West Innes Street. And, among other things, people bring their entire families to the grocery store — mother, father and kids.

To be clear, there are many folks who would prefer to stay at home with their family and still be paid for their work. Some jobs simply do not allow that. There are essential employees who need to work in order to continue providing for their families. Others have living conditions at home that make it preferable to travel elsewhere during the day.

In conditions where it’s safe and sustainable to do so, however, Rowan County must stay home as much as possible. Doing so will help slow the spread of COVID-19 and help move the state toward “reopening” sooner.