Google data show New Yorkers doing less social distancing than people in Italy, Spain

Google tracking data released Friday suggest New Yorkers are less likely to avoid public places and stay home than residents of hard-hit coronavirus hotspots in Europe.

The tech giant said it released the location data to allow authorities to “make critical decisions to combat COVID-19.”

The release follows Trump administration coronavirus coordinator Deborah Birx saying Thursday that she could tell by the US increase in new infections that people were not universally abiding by requests that they stay home.

“I know you’ve seen the slope on the US versus the slope in Italy, and we have to change that slope,” Birx said. “What it means in the US is not everyone is doing it. So we’re only as strong as every community, every county, every state, every American following the guidelines to a T.”

The anonymized aggregate data bolster Birx’s claim, tracking changes in presence at locations from before the virus walloped the West in February to Sunday, March 29, when non-essential businesses were closed across Europe and the US.

In New York state, foot traffic in public parks was down 47 percent and people at transit stations down 68 percent — compared to drops around 90 percent in hard-hit Italy and Spain.

In France, which has fewer infections than Italy and Spain, there was a drop greater than 80 percent in people going to parks and transit stations.

In the UK, which shut down non-essential businesses on March 24, four days after New York, parks and transit stations had lighter traffic too, down 52 percent and 75 percent, respectively.

Of the five boroughs, the changes were greatest in Manhattan, but still well below most European rates, at near-80 percent drops in park and transit visits. Queens saw drops of 52 percent and 75 percent, while Brooklyn’s rates dropped 55 percent and 63 percent, respectively.

It’s not just New York. In Washington, DC — the most urbanized state-level US jurisdiction with data — there was a 41 percent decline in people at parks and a 68 percent drop at transit stations, drops far lighter than in Europe.

In a broad category for “retail and recreation,” Google data also show Americans going out at greater rates than Europeans. And attendance at workplaces declined by a smaller percentage than in Europe.

Comparing people at residences, Google tracked a 16 percent uptick in New York, compared with 24 percent for Italy, 22 percent for Spain and 18 percent for Spain. There was a 14 percent bump in DC residents accessing accounts at home.

Some states have lower rates of social distancing.

In Florida, which imposed a stay-home order for resident Wednesday, there were smaller declines in venturing out.

But curiously, Washington state, a state with an initial boom in cases but slower growth in numbers, changes in staying home were more slight. There was just an 11 percent dip in people at parks and a 56 percent drop at transit stations. Logging on in residences increased 13 percent.

US officials in many jurisdictions have threatened jail time and fines for violators of orders that they only leave home for food, medicine, exercise and essential work. But enforcement is inconsistent, depending largely on voluntary compliance. The Google data has some civil libertarians queasy about potential government use.

The US has the world’s largest publicly acknowledged outbreak of COVID-19, with almost 260,000 diagnoses and more than 6,600 deaths. Italy and Spain have almost 120,000 cases each, France has about 60,000 and the UK about 40,000.