Google data shows ups and downs people moving about in B.C.

Visits to parks have risen and fallen widely

Movements tracked by Google show British Columbians spend more time in parks compared to other Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the data should be treated with caution.

The data based on users who have opted-in to the location history history for their Google account show how visits and length of stay at different places change compared to a baseline period, the median value for the corresponding day of the week during the five-week period starting Jan. 3 and ending Feb. 6.

Looking at British Columbia, movements related to retail and recreation dropped 54 per cent by March 29 compared to the baseline with the drop starting to be noticeable starting just before the week starting on Sunday, March 15. The trend line dropped steadily up to the week starting on Sunday, March 22, then up-ticked, before dropping, albeit at a slower pace, towards March 29. Only movements related to transit stops (down 59 per cent) dropped faster. Movements involving the workplace dropped 47 per cent, while movements in the category of grocery and pharmacy dropped 28 per cent. Residential movements rose 13 per cent.

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Mobility trends for parks, defined as places like national parks, public beaches, marinas, dog parks, plazas, and public gardens, rose 27 per cent compared to the baseline with significant up and down spikes over time. The most notable spike happened between the week starting March 15 and ending March 22. During this period, movements involving parks to rose 80 per cent above baseline only to drop below the baseline by March 22. Movements spiked again, rising to 40 per cent above baseline, only to drop sharply to below 40 per ent of baseline. Movements then surpassed the baseline again, approaching 40 per cent above the baseline by March 29.

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Canada, as a whole, has seen similar figures compared to British Columbia, with the exception of park mobility, which has actually dropped 16 per cent for the country.

Google said it prepared these figures to help members of the public and public health officials understand responses to social distancing guidance related to COVID-19. But the company also warns against reading too much into these figures.

“This report shouldn’t be used for medical diagnostic, prognostic, or treatment purposes,” it reads. “It also isn’t intended to be used for guidance on personal travel plans.”

Google also warns against drawing comparisons. “Location accuracy and the understanding of categorized places varies from region to region, so we don’t recommend using this data to compare changes between countries, or between regions with different characteristics [such as rural versus urban areas],” it reads.


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