THE INVESTIGATORS: Louisiana receives failing grade for social distancing according to GPS data

THE INVESTIGATORS: Louisiana receives failing grade for social distancing according to GPS data
The company Unacast gives Louisiana a D grade for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Source: Unacast)

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Wednesday, April 22, 2020 marks one month since the state of Louisiana has been under a stay-at-home order. The state has received a failing grade according to data collected by a company that tracks cellphone GPS data.

Everyone should be asking themselves if their travel is essential as coronavirus continues to spread across the state, forcing all businesses to close. It’s a new normal that no one could have imagined but now that that state has made one month under the restrictions, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards says many folks may not be doing the best job at staying home.

“People have been traveling more and engaging more with one another and having more contact and I hope that’s not the case and if that is the case, I hope it doesn’t translate into having the cases that I think we might have,” the governor said.

A company called Unacast has released a social distancing scoreboard, tracking cellphone GPS data to determine movement in the midst of the pandemic. Each state gets a letter grade measuring just how successfully different areas are complying. Louisiana is currently failing with a D.

"What I do know is we can all do better and we should all be focused on the task at hand which is continuing to slow the spread, making sure that we’re doing what the president has asked and what we have asked here in Louisiana, what I have asked, and that is that we stay home,” Edwards said.

According to the tracker, some parishes in the WAFB viewing area are doing well. West Feliciana Parish is currently doing better than the state with a C rating. At the time of this report, it is the best score in the immediate area.

West Feliciana’s Emergency Preparedness Director and sheriff-elect Brian Spillman says the rating is not surprising. He believes folks in his parish are adjusting well to the new normal.

“So we’re pretty proud of that,” Spillman said. “I think our people have embraced the idea of social distancing and only getting out when they absolutely have to or when it’s absolutely necessary. We’ve encouraged that all along and it seems as if they’re following along with it.”

He believes their impressive social distancing grade is also reflected in the low number of cases they have. Right now, West Feliciana has just above 80 positive cases of coronavirus. Spillman says it is largely thanks to the community working together to help slow the spread.

“The fact that we are rural, I think people are self-sustaining more than possibly in some other places and again, helping each other out and not having multiple people go to a store to pick up you know basic supplies... just have one go or someone go on behalf of someone else,” Spillman said.

At the time of this report, Livingston Parish ranks at the very bottom of the social distancing scoreboard in Louisiana with an F. WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked the parish president if he was surprised by the score.

“I am surprised by that because I ride out a fairly good bit of the time and there’s not a lot of traffic on the road like you typically and normally would see,” Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks said. “I don’t know where they’re going.”

Ricks says he is shocked by the report and believes the parish can do better.

“Well, you know, obviously we want to do a better job at staying at home. Like you said, we’ve got a lot of people moving around a lot,” Ricks said. “I understand it. I really do. I understand how difficult it is to stay inside a house or in your back yard for three or four weeks at a time.”

A picture submitted by a WAFB viewer shows several folks out boating in the parish back in March. Ricks says they did have an issue when they stay-at-home order was first implemented but says things have improved.

You can view social distancing grades for each Louisiana parish in the Unacast tracker below.

"Initially we had some problems with some gatherings on the waterways. It was just one incident where someone had assumed that a place was open and feeding and giving drinks to all the boaters that was there but that wasn't the case and they dispersed immediately when the sheriff's department went down there and checked it out," he added.

Livingston Parish currently has more than 160 positive cases of coronavirus. Ricks believes the number is relatively good despite the negative social distancing score. He says a lot of it comes down to personal responsibility.

“By and large, we’re closed but that doesn’t mean my people are going home and sitting in their house all day for the last three or four weeks,” Ricks said. “I don’t know what they’re doing all day and I can’t make it mandatory that they stay home. Our declaration tells them to, the governor’s declaration tells them to but you can’t force them to.”

The social distancing ratings might show how much folks are traveling but less travel does not necessarily mean fewer cases. East Baton Rouge Parish is rated a D, slightly ahead of Livingston Parish. While EBR did score better for travel, the parish has recorded the third-highest number of cases in the state at more than 1,600.

As numbers across Louisiana are slowly becoming more encouraging, the governor says it is still vital that each person continues to do their part in the fight against coronavirus by staying home and keeping their distance.

“Those things are still critically important and that’s what I need people to be focused on,” Edwards said.

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