Mobility during a pandemic

The UNC Highway Safety Research Center is leading a study on how the pandemic is impacting how people travel in North Carolina.

A woman in business clothes riding the bus.
(Shutterstock image)

COVID-19 is affecting the health of communities large and small across North Carolina. But how is the pandemic impacting how people travel in North Carolina, and how might those changes interplay with health policies?

A new research project – called the NC COVID-19 Mobility and Health Impacts Study – is now underway to examine those questions. Led by the UNC Highway Safety Research Center (HSRC), this project brings together a team of multidisciplinary research partners from across the UNC System, including Carolina’s Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, the Odum Institute for Research in Social Science and NC State University’s department of statistics to research the interrelationships of public health policies, mobility changes and the transmission of COVID-19 to inform policy decisions in North Carolina.

“The impacts of COVID-19 cut across many interrelated fields and aspects of transportation safety and health research,” said Dr. Randa Radwan, the principal investigator of the project and director of the UNC Highway Safety Research Center. “This is an important project and we are excited to be able to explore several foundational areas of research using a multitude of mobility and health data resources from North Carolina.”

Specific research questions that will be explored as part of this six-month, $928,602 research project include:

  • Did shelter-in-place policies, emergency declarations, and general news and events (local and nationwide) reduce movement within North Carolina, and did this slow the spread of COVID-19?
  • How has re-opening changed mobility patterns, as compared to the COVID-19 shelter-in-place period?
  • How has COVID-19 impacted the transportation safety sector?
  • Assuming mobility patterns have shifted, has this had a measurable impact on COVID-19 transmission patterns?
  • What recommendations can state or local municipalities implement to reduce the spread of COVID-19 while minimizing other safety and transportation impacts?

“North Carolina is fortunate to be home to world-renowned experts in the fields of transportation safety, public health, social science and health services,” said Jeffrey Warren, executive director of the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory, which is funding the project through a $29 million appropriation from the North Carolina General Assembly. “We are excited by the HSRC-led team’s project goals to explore mobility and health and, ultimately, the ability to do their part by educating and informing legislators and policymakers in North Carolina who will be making very important near- and short-term decisions for all North Carolinians.”

Initial findings and a public-facing website for the NC COVID-19 Mobility and Health Impacts Study will be shared in September 2020. Sign-up for interim project updates in the meantime.

Read more about the UNC Highway Safety Research Center’s research projects.