Some Americans ‘jumping the gun’ on loosening COVID-19 social distancing practices, researchers say

As cities and states prepare to reopen parts of their economies, data suggests that many Americans have already begun social distancing less.

According to research from the Maryland Transportation Institute, a research and educational hub from the University of Maryland’s Clark School of Engineering, there was a reported decline in the Social Distancing Index (SDI) on April 14. SDI itself is calculated using “anonymized and aggregated location-based service data from mobile phones and other sources,” according to a news release from the institute.

“The numbers reinforce concerns that warmer weather and public debate over reopening may be spurring a premature loosening of social distancing behavior, even as COVID-19 cases continue to mount,” the institute said.

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There has already been controversy and concern over particular states and cities’ reopening of their economies and other popular areas. Lifeguards estimated that 40,000 people gathered at California’s Newport Beach on April 24, with many of those visitors hailing from nearby cities such as Los Angeles and San Diego.

Meanwhile, restaurants in Georgia were granted the green light to start providing dine-in service on Monday, April 27 as part of the state’s larger reopening plans. But there has been widespread concern over the Peach State reopening too soon. As of April 29, Georgia had more than 25,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to its public health department.

RELATED: Georgia restaurants resume dine-in services Monday

Across the country, protesters have been gathering in hordes in major cities and at state capitols to express their disdain for lockdown orders and COVID-19 restrictions. 

In April, President Donald Trump unveiled new guidelines for state and local leaders on when it may be appropriate to reopen certain areas dependent on a drop in COVID-19 cases. 

Even with said guidelines in place, Dr. Deborah Birx has noted the need for further testing and said that social distancing protocols will have to continue throughout the summer. Dr. Anthony Fauci has also previously noted that extensive contact tracing will be required help to loosen stay-at-home orders.

RELATED: Contact tracing to prevent the spread of coronavirus

As of April 29, there were more than 1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States, according to data from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. 

Even for economies and businesses that are reopening, there are still restrictions and guidelines. Starbucks, for example, will reopen 90% of its stores by June, but most orders will take place through methods that don’t require physical entry into a location, such as drive-thru or delivery.

Similarly, starting May 4, Costco is requiring that patrons who visit its locations wear a face mask or covering. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is still recommending that individuals practice social distancing by keeping 6 feet of distance between themselves and others. The CDC also notes that cloth face coverings are not a substitute for social distancing practices.