States in the West and Northeast Saw the Highest Amounts of Travel on Thanksgiving

The United States is currently in the midst of the worst outbreak in Covid cases since the pandemic started, and many have blamed the recent surge on people defying public health orders and traveling to see loved ones for Thanksgiving.

While people did indeed travel for Thanksgiving, people were, on average, in contact with fewer people on Thanksgiving than they were the days prior, according to a new study of mobile location data conducted by UberMedia.

Americans all across the country spent the Thanksgiving holiday in homes that weren’t their own, with the highest rates of travel coming in states in the West and Northeast.

The data was collected by analyzing the location data from more than 150 million mobile devices in the days before Thanksgiving to establish a baseline for each county. UberMedia then examined which of those devices traveled more than 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) on Thanksgiving Day and compared the two datasets to calculate a percentage difference.

The counties with the darkest colors experienced the greatest increase in travel on Thanksgiving day.

But the data also shows that people were in contact with fewer people on Thanksgiving than they were in the days leading up to the holiday.

For much of November, people were in contact with more than seven other people each day, according to mobile location data. On Thanksgiving, Americans were in contact with 6.22 other people, the lowest it had been the entire month of November up to that date.

A possible explanation is that contacts dropped because people spent the holiday with loved ones, at home, instead of visiting public spaces like grocery stores or retail locations. (Our previous analysis showed that the usual Thanksgiving weekend surge in shopping was greatly diminished this year.)

Avoiding contact with other people is vital to containing the pandemic, but viewing the two datasets together suggests people engaged in some risky behavior on Thanksgiving.

People might have kept their get-togethers small, but the increase in travel indicates people still ventured outside their homes for their Thanksgiving gatherings. That is, while people were in contact with fewer people overall on Thanksgiving, they were likely meeting up with people outside of their household, thus increasing their risk for exposure and transmission of Covid.

As the pandemic continues, mobile location data will continue to be a vital tool in tracking and helping suppress the spread of the disease

Insights provided by UM in any study mentioned are aggregated and de-identified, not tied to any single device or individual. UM adheres to GDPR and CCPA and has been certified for privacy compliance by Verasafe, an independent third party.