Our world has turned into something out of a dystopian novel. Crossing the street when we see someone walking towards us, working from home, and having a conversation from the windows of our cars have become the norm. Hundreds of thousands of people have already lost their lives to the COVID-19 pandemic, and with new cases popping up every day, who knows how long it will be until we have a curative vaccine.
Simply shutting down the economy until a cure is developed is not practical; we must form a feasible plan to mitigate the spread of the virus as best we can. While handwashing, wearing masks and contact tracing are some of the various methods already in place, none have been as effective at flattening the curve as social distancing. But maintaining a strict 6 feet of social distance between two people is not so easy as the economy is opening up. What would help, however, would be to know as a broader population if we are far apart enough to minimize disease transmission. If we find ourselves too close, we can take it upon ourselves to create a little more distance to get to a safe place.
I suggest the development of a new metric: the Social Distance Average Measure (SDAM). In a given area at a given time, we can use aggregated cell phone location data to determine the average distance between people. We can calculate the SDAM during various time intervals, beginning after the WHO’s January public health emergency declaration. We can use this data to determine the threshold SDAM, the minimum average distance that should be maintained by people to minimize transmission of COVID-19.
By providing live updates of the threshold SDAM and current SDAM of a given area, on say, a weather forecasting app or similar reporting system, we can all do our part to help control the spread of this pandemic. We will mitigate the spread of the virus ourselves, understanding the need for alertness and caution when we see the current SDAM approaching the threshold.