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Measuring movement and social contact with smartphone data: a real-time application to COVID-19∗

Working paper #830
Victor Couture, Jonathan I. Dingel, Allison Green, Jessie Handbury, Kevin R. Williams

Abstract 

Tracking human activity in real time and at fine spatial scale is partic- ularly valuable during episodes such as the COVID-19 pandemic. In this paper, we discuss the suitability of smartphone data for quantifying move- ment and social contact. We show that these data cover broad sections of the US population and exhibit movement patterns similar to conventional survey data. We develop and make publicly available a location exposure index that summarizes county-to-county movements and a device exposure index that quantifies social contact within venues. We use these indices to document how pandemic-induced reductions in activity vary across people and places. 

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