Kentucky didn’t cut travel as much as bordering states did last week; some moving about were helping spread the coronavirus

NYT map shows change in average travel, by county, last week. Dark red is normal travel; orange is half of normal; lightest gray is no travel. Outlined, shaded areas had stay-at-home orders or an equivalent before March 27.

Kentuckians did not reduce their travel last week as much as people in adjoining states that had stay-at-home orders, despite state and local officials’ pleas to stay home to limit spread of the covid-19 coronavirus, according to a New York Times map based on cellphone data.

Gov. Andy Beshear has not issued a stay-at-home or “shelter in place” order, but the Times counted Kentucky as among the states with such orders, apparently concluding that Beshear’s other orders amount to an equivalent.

Beshear said at his daily press conference that his orders are of “equal strength” to those in states with such orders.

The maps showed, not surprisingly, that travel was closer to normal in the most rural areas, with a few exceptions. “Disease experts who reviewed the results say those reductions in travel — to less than a mile a day, on average, from about five miles — may be enough to sharply curb the spread of the coronavirus in those regions, at least for now,” the Times reports.

The meaning of the data, gathered anonymously March 23-26, is not entirely clear. “The coronavirus outbreak is unprecedented in scale in recent history, and it is hard to know the exact relationship between changes in travel patterns and how quickly the virus spreads,” the Times notes. “Other factors play a big role, including how quickly sick people are tested and isolated, how closely people tend to congregate — and luck. Sheltering in place is protective and clearly reduces people’s contact with others, but the existing evidence that the policy can effectively contain an epidemic within a large population is uncertain, experts said.”

Here’s part of a Times map showing when the average distance traveled first fell below two miles. It is limited to the southern half of the country, where travel has been heaviest. Not surprisingly, rural counties were less likely to fall below that threshold. For a larger version of the map, click on it.