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Port: Based on smartphone data, North Dakota gets a 'B' for social distancing

Social distancing is hard, and if you 're not doing it, your smartphone may be ratting you out.

Social distancing is in effect Sunday, March 22, to safeguard against the spread of the coronavirus on this Allegiant flight from Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

MINOT, N.D. — Social distancing is probably our best line of defense when it comes to coronavirus.

You can't get it if you're not exposed to it, right?

But social distancing is hard, and if you 're not doing it, your smartphone may be ratting you out.

The Social Distancing Scoreboard is a project launched by a company called Uncast. They're in the business of collecting and analyzing phone GPS location. The scoreboard uses that sort of data to grade our various states, and counties, on how well we're doing on social distancing.

Specifically, they're measuring how far we're all traveling and extrapolating from that some conclusions about social distancing.


How is North Dakota doing? We get a "B" grade overall. You can see the full, interactive map for our state below.

Interestingly, on a county-by-county level, the state's most populated areas are doing the best with social distancing, scoring in the "A" to "B" range.

The areas with an "F" are in the rural parts of the state:

EMBED: Social Distancing County Scoreboard

Why are the rural areas getting an "F"? I suspect it's because the roads home in rural areas are a lot longer. If you live on a farm, the trip to the grocery store is a lot farther than if you live in, say, Fargo.

Also, people like farmers and ranchers are still working, and they put a lot of miles on.

What's really fascinating is the trend line for social distancing. The Uncast folks were able to measure a pretty dramatic shift in mobility among North Dakotans in recent weeks.


EMBED: Mobility Graph Social Distancing Scoreboard

Here's some key dates to put that graph into perspective:

  • March 11 —North Dakota officials detect the first case of COVID-19 in the state
  • March 13 —Gov. Doug Burgum orders North Dakota schools closed
  • March 18 —The first case of COVID-19 resulting from community spread is confirmed
  • March 19 —Burgum orders businesses like bars, restaurants, and gyms to restrict operations

Note the drop in mobility shortly after the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the state, and then the rise in mobility again until Burgum began issuing orders shutting down schools and businesses.
I noted yesterday that, so far, it seems Burgum's orders have helped tamp down the spread of the virus. This data seems to show how necessary those orders were.

It doesn't seem North Dakotans were going to do the social distancing thing without some direction from the state.

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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .


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Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a columnist and podcast host for the Forum News Service. Reach him at
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