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Boyle County doing social distancing well, research shows

Boyle County residents practiced social distancing better than the state average through the month of March, according to research published by the Maryland Transportation Institute through the University of Maryland’s COVID-19 Impact Analysis Platform (IAP).

The research examined states and counties across the country, looking at areas such as travel and percentage of people staying home. For each county and state, the IAP determined a Social Distancing Index.

Boyle County’s Social Distancing Index for the time period between March 1 and May 1 was 39. The Social Distancing Index for the state of Kentucky during the same time period was 38. The closest score of any surrounding county was Marion County with a 33.

The Social Distancing Index is an integer from 0~100 that represents the extent residents and visitors are practicing social distancing. “0” indicates no social distancing is observed in the community, while “100” indicates all residents are staying at home and no visitors are entering the county.

It is computed by an equation that takes into account the percentage of people staying home, the reduction of all trips compared to pre-COVID-19 benchmarks, the reduction in work trips and non-work trips, as well as the reduction of out-of-county trips and the reduction of travel distance.

Brent Blevins, public health director with the Boyle County Health Department, said he feels the Boyle County community has done a good job of following public health guidelines and restrictions during the pandemic.

“The community has been good so far at following the governor’s orders and recommendations,” Blevins said. “We do have a few cases of people not complying, but the majority are trying to do what is needed. I tend to think that, overall, we as a community are doing a great job dealing with the COVID virus. Most people go out of their way to help each other and are appreciative of the businesses and organizations we have here and want to see them succeed. We have a lot of people in this community who are working at agencies every day helping protect us, and we are so appreciative.”

As COVID-19 cases increased, most areas saw an increase in social distancing. Boyle County’s Social Distancing Index increased to 44 for the time period from April 1 to May 1. The data shows a notable change in several categories for Boyle County.

From March 1 to April 1, the research shows that 24 percent of Boyle County residents were staying home, defined in this project as no trips more than one mile away from home. From April 1 to May 1, that percentage increased to 30.

The data also shows a decrease in miles traveled per person, from 27.9 in the time period from March 1 to April 1 to 24.8 miles in the time period from April 1 to May 1. The number of non-work trips also decreased, from 3.2 to 2.6. The data does not specify the reason for non-work trips, which could range from grocery store trips to picking up takeout from restaurants among other reasons.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced that beginning on May 11, restrictions on businesses will begin being lifted in a phased approach that will continue throughout the coming weeks. Blevins said that although Kentucky is entering the reopening process, the public still needs to take several precautions to ensure the health and safety of themselves and others.

“A key piece of the reopening is continuing the social distancing guidelines, as this is what will help us keep our caseload low and on a flatter curve,” Blevins said. “Each of these businesses has to put in place certain guidelines in order to be able to open up. As individuals, let’s make their job easy by complying. Don’t be the person that causes problems because you don’t follow the rules. Unfortunately, it only takes a few people to force the guidelines to be increased again, and we don’t want that.”

As May begins and warm weather arrives, Blevins said he hopes the community will keep the guidelines in mind.

“Ultimately this comes down to each of us as individuals deciding ‘I’m going to do the best I can to protect not only myself, but others,’” Blevins said. “If all of us keep this in mind daily, we will be much better off as a community for COVID, but also flu/other viruses that we deal with continually. We are so blessed that God has given us this time of year when the weather is warmer and we can enjoy the outside. As long as we are mindful of how we do that for social distancing, then we can enjoy.”

Research conducted at the federal, state, and local levels can be found online at data.covid.umd.edu.

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