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'Quarantine fatigue' from month-long lockdown could make more people want to go out, fear experts

As more people step out, experts worry, the crisis will spiral beyond control
UPDATED APR 27, 2020
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

More Americans appear to be reeling under the pressure of stay-at-home orders, forcing them to step out more often, new smartphone data shows.

Researchers suspect quarantine fatigue could be driving this change in behavior. “We saw something we hoped wasn’t happening, but it’s there,” Lei Zhang, lead researcher, and director of the Maryland Transportation Institute at the University of Maryland, told Washington Post. “It seems collectively we’re getting a little tired. It looks like people are loosening up on their own to travel more," he added.

Stay-at-home orders help stem the spread of the virus. But as more people step out, experts worry, the crisis will spiral beyond control. The drop comes amid protests against lockdowns. Even US President Donald Trump tweeted his support to the protestors, asking governors to “liberate” states from shutdowns. One participant from Washington told BBC, "We believe that the state governor has gone beyond his constitutional authority in shutting down businesses and ordering people to stay at home."

Tacking location data, the team began recording a change in behavior from April 17. The number of people who appeared to have stayed home stood at 31%, down from 33% recorded a week earlier. Before this change, the average remained steady, the team said. The team also saw an uptick in personal daily trips: it increased to 2.5 per person, from the earlier estimate of 2.4. 

The drop comes amid protests against lockdowns (Getty Images)

Many experts are worried about these trends but do not find them surprising. George Rutherford, an epidemiology professor at the University of California at San Francisco, said he is concerned to hear that more people are venturing out even as the US continues to be the worst hit.

But some experts think we should wait a little longer to see if the trend continues. Dr Wilbur Chen, an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, told Washington Post that the change could also be the result of an unexpected error. Zhang and his team will keep a close watch on the shifting trends. They will check if increased travel reflects on the spread -- coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths, but this could take some time.

"But it all makes sense,” Chen told Washington Post. “If people are out and about, there is more risk of transmission, and when there’s a transmission, you have more cases of hospitalizations and deaths," he added.

Two states, South Carolina and Georgia, have already reopened. According to Zhang, as more states begin allowing businesses, beaches, and other public facilities to reopen, more people are expected to venture out.

The Trump administration has already issued guidelines for this purpose. Other states such as Texas, Minnesota, and Vermont, are also planning to ease restrictions and have set dates already. "We are confident that we have enough tests for phase one of the reopening America plan but we do acknowledge the fact that we need to keep the pressure on developing more tests, getting more tests out there," Stephen Hahn, commissioner for the US Food and Drug Administration, told CNN.