Harris Co. residents are going out more after end of mask mandate, cell phone data shows

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Research using cell phone data movement indicates people in Harris County are getting out to shops and restaurants much more than they used to, a rise that comes at the same time that a statewide mask mandate was lifted.

Compared to the state, however, Harris County residents are still heeding stay-at-home recommendations, while data from other counties shows people are out and about much more.

The data uses randomized location information from thousands of cell phones to determine when people are moving outside their normal movement patterns. It's compared to movements they made before the pandemic. That pre-pandemic movement is considered the baseline to the data, and movement is calculated as being above-baseline or below-baseline for comparison.

It also documents how movement was limited during February's winter storm that paralyzed the state for a week.

In the image below, you can see the dip in mid-February as people stayed at home, then there's an increase as people got outside and went to local parks.

Mobility data for Harris County. (Source: Google)



Visits to outdoor spaces increased in Harris County to 9% above the baseline, suggesting people were happy to escape their homes after the cold snap and a long year in quarantine. Trips to other residential locations is up 2% over baseline, indicating that socialization is returning to the area.

But in a sign of what may be a long-term trend, there has been little movement back to offices. Office travel continues to remain low among Houstonians, still down 11% from baseline.

SEE ALSO: How some businesses plan to handle face mask mandate lift

In other parts of the state, movement is much more pronounced.

Henderson County, in east Texas near Corsicana, shows a 15% increase in shopping and an almost full return to office work. Galveston County saw increases in all major categories of movement, including shopping, grocery, parks, public transit and residential.

Mobility data for Galveston County. Source: Google



Montgomery County saw mixed results, with increases in grocery, parks and residential visits.

Montgomery County mobility data. (Source: Google)



Fort Bend County was down except for parks and residential, with a four percentage point increase.

Mobility data for Fort Bend County. (Source: Google)



Recent polling data also shows support for a mask mandate dropped nearly ten percentage points from the time before Gov. Greg Abbott announced the reversal of the mandate to today. Support for the mandate was at 78% before, but after it dropped to 69% as of this week.

Keaton Fox is ABC13's Sr. Manager, Data Strategy.
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