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GPS Data: Tennessee gets 'F' for social distancing

NASHVILLE, Tenn.--Tennessee has joined a growing list of states receiving an "F" grade when it comes to social distancing efforts as many states reopen their economies amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The grade comes from Unacast, a Norwegian GPS company which has been tracking the movements of Americans during the pandemic. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee is among officials who have referred to the data along with modeling from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.

The Unacast data was also among the metrics Governor Lee cited when deciding to initially issue a Safer-At-Home Order. Now, Governor Lee has allowed restaurants, gyms, salons, and recreational businesses to reopen with the hope businesses will follow guidelines under the "Tennessee Pledge."

With the reopening and expected increase of mobility, Tennessee has joined 24 other states receiving an "F" grade in social distancing activity. Grading is a combination of the percent change in average distance traveled, reduction in non-essential visits, and decrease in encounters density compared to the national baseline. In all three metrics, Unacast gave the state failing grades.

The increases are expected. Governor Lee referenced the increase in movement as the state reopens in an effort to boost the economy and address losses in state revenue. "We clearly know people are moving around more but we expect them to...There is an opening of business, an expansion of opportunity," Governor Lee said on Tuesday. "What's important for us is as we see that movement and as we watch all of that change, what happens to the critical data points that we talked about earlier? Hospitalizations, positivity rates, the types of things that are going to be most important for us in fighting COVID-19 going forward, those are the things that we want to track as well."

Governor Lee also added issues could be addressed at the county level should tracking show negative trends. In terms of the mobility factor measured by Unacast, 61 of Tennessee's 95 counties received "F" grades. Hancock County received the highest mark with a "B-" while Davidson received a "D+" grade.

A new Unacast scoreboard based on the GPS data also reveals what industries Tennesseans are frequenting now that more businesses are open. Comparing GPS data of foot traffic compared to the same dates in 2019, home goods & improvement stores saw over a 20% increase over the weekend compared to the same dates last year.

Miscellaneous goods, grocery, pets, general retail, healthcare, and auto dealerships are other sectors which saw increases of up to 20% in foot traffic over the weekend compared to the same dates last year.

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