ST. ALBANS — Vermonters are making fewer trips to stores, even grocery stores, and workplaces, according to data from Google, while trips to parks and recreation sites have skyrocketed, increasing 77 percent.
Google gathers the data through applications which use GPS on phones. The company says it then strips the data of identifying information before making in publicly available. This is similar to the data used to show popular visit times in Google Maps.
Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine has cited the data during the thrice-weekly press conferences about coronavirus as evidence of Vermonters’ compliance with the governor’s “stay home, stay safe” order.
Google takes travel data for a single day and compares it to that day of week during the period of Jan. 3 to Feb. 6, 2020 which serves as the baseline.
The most recent day for which Vermont data is available is Wednesday, May 13. This was before stores were allowed to reopen.
That Wednesday, Vermonters visited retail and recreation sites, including restaurants and cafes, shopping centers, museums, libraries and movie theaters, 31 percent less than they had during the baseline period. Just a few days earlier, on Friday, May 9, those trips were down 59 percent.
Trips to parks and other outdoor recreation sites were up 77 percent on May 13. Showing how weather-dependent those visits are, data for Friday, May 9, which was chilly and rainy in much of the state, showed a drop in visits compared to January of 20 percent.
However, despite the chilly Friday, visits to Vermont’s parks and outdoor recreation sites are up, according to Commissioner of Parks, Forests and Recreation Michael Snyder. And the increase isn’t just the shift in seasons.
“By all accounts, we are seeing a significant increase in outdoor activity,” Snyder said. That increase can be seen at the state parks, he said, but also other recreation areas.
The benefits not only of moving around, but of doing so outside, are well documented, Snyder said, adding he and his department are pleased to be able to offer a place where Vermonters can go, especially with so much upheaval in their personal and work lives.
As the weather is turning warmer, Vermonters are also increasingly getting out to recreate on or near the water, according to Snyder.
Vermont’s state parks are still technically in their winter season. They are open, but not staffed. Snyder said his department is busy preparing for the parks to open fully, with the twist this year of determining how to do so safely. Areas of contact and risk which could be eliminated were, and others are being reduced. Those eliminated risks include the closure of playgrounds and a temporary end to the rental of bikes and other equipment.
In the past few years, visitors to the parks have topped 1 million, Snyder said. It’s unclear what will happen this year, particularly with out of state visitors.
But for now the increase in visits is “real and, by and large, it’s really good,” Snyder said.
Trips to homes are also up, 17 percent on May 13 and 12 percent on May 9, according to Google’s data, but every other category is down.
Workplace trips were down by 46 percent in the May 13 data, while trips to transit stations were down 40 percent.
Even visits to grocery stores and pharmacies are down, dropping 14 percent in the May 13 data and 16 percent in the May 9 data.
Franklin County bucked that trend, however, showing a slight increase in trips to grocery stores and pharmacies, which may mean that people who work in Chittenden County and might stop at a grocery store or pharmacy there are shopping closer to home.
Grocery and pharmacy visits in Chittenden County were both down.
Chittenden County’s workplace visits dropped by more than half, while Franklin County’s were down by 41 percent on May 13 and just 22 percent on May 9. Most manufacturers in Franklin County were deemed essential, so those businesses continued to operate and continued to do so in person.