Cell-phone data helps researchers stay ahead of curve

Posted at 5:50 PM, Jul 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-17 23:05:05-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Texas A&M Corpus Christi researchers Friday said the Coastal Bend is in the middle of a sharp increase in COVID-19 related deaths, and they expect those numbers to get worse in the upcoming weeks if precautions aren’t followed.

In fact, Corpus Christi is now the No. 1 metro area in Texas for new COVID-19 cases, and second in deaths per capita. The university is able to gather this information and predict patterns with the help of cell-phone data that it has been collecting since April.

The data helps researchers learn more about the community’s travel patterns, and how those patterns have contributed to the spread of the novel coronavirus in the Coastal Bend.

“We can see how many people are going to the hospital, how many people going to the bars, and how many people are going to work out,” said Davey Edwards, who’s part of the university’s COVID-19 task force.

Edwards said the group also can track how many people visit Corpus Christi or go to the beach. He estimates nearly 100,000 people from across Texas, and the country, visited the area just last week alone. With this information, officials can make informed decisions. For example, to help slow the spread of the virus and reduce the number of cases, officials recently based the decision to enforce a mask order and limit beach access on the input generated.

“This is a way that we're able to contribute to the research that's going on to give officials the data they need to make the decisions they need,” Edwards said.

Edwards also said that according to the cell-phone data from April, more people were staying at home. That’s when the stay-at-home order was in place and the numbers of confirmed cases and deaths in Nueces County were low.

This time last month, Corpus Christi had one of the lowest death rates per capita across Texas, but as restrictions eased, more people went out in public or to the beach.

The cell-phone data cannot be traced back to individual users, however if you’re not comfortable with it, you can disable your location in your phone’s settings.