Hey Google: When Did People Stop Going to Work?

04 May 2020
By Dr. Faten Sabry, Linh Nguyen, and Aakash Bhalothia

As the questions of when and how to reopen the economy after COVID-19 continue, NERA experts demonstrate that newly released Google data can be used to assess the timing and effectiveness of social distancing. In “Hey Google: When Did People Stop Going to Work?” Managing Director Dr. Faten Sabry, Senior Analyst Linh Nguyen, and Research Associate Aakash Bhalothia use data from Google that was made public in early April to compare the social distancing efforts of San Francisco and New York City. The authors analyze data measuring the frequency of travel to workplaces as a preliminary measure of social distancing.

The report shows that people living in San Francisco began social distancing between a few days and a week earlier than New Yorkers—not weeks earlier. Also, the authors find that about two-thirds of the decline in travel to workplaces had already occurred before states’ stay-at-home orders were announced.

The results of such analyses can be informative in shaping public policy and in potential disputes and litigation. For example, disputes may arise over the timing of a stay-at-home announcement and its impact on a given product or company. The type of analysis in this whitepaper may help assess these allegations. It may also be used in a damages analysis or event study as a benchmark for customer demands for certain goods or services. There are categories of the data—such as groceries and pharmacies, or retail and recreation mobility—that could be used in such matters.