COVID-19 News

LANL tech helps track how COVID-19 restrictions affect population movement

Santa Fe-based data analytics firm Descartes Labs is using technology developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to provide near real-time information on population movement in states and targeted counties around the U.S. where travel and stay-at-home restrictions have been implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company, which launched in 2015, uses advanced image recognition software originally developed at LANL that sifts through reams of data from satellites and other sources to rapidly analyze global trends in almost any field. It uses a cloud-based supercomputer to analyze that information and provide advanced insight into everything from energy and agriculture to weather patterns and large-scale industry operations across the globe.

Tracking population mobility can help state and local officials assess how well government restrictions on movement are working, determine if reduced mobility is helping to slow contagion, and provide critical information to adjust policies as needed, said Descartes Labs CEO Phil Fraher.

The company uses GPS-based mobile device data aggregated from thousands of phones to produce daily averages on movement compared with before mobility restrictions were put in place. No individual data are recorded, and the system only looks at county-level information to protect privacy.

The data shows how much movement there is and how far people are traveling in different localities. That data can then be collated with infection rates to see if higher contagion levels correlate to greater movement, Fraher said.

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