New Mexico based company helps state gauge social distancing

Coronavirus New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – How do states know if people are staying home? Some of them, including New Mexico, are turning to a Santa Fe company. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham praised New Mexicans for staying home. She knew people were not traveling as much because Descartes Labs has been providing her critical information to gauge social distancing in the state.

You may have seen a graph or two at the governor’s briefings detailing how movement is down following the stay-at-home order. “This is the kind of problem we are really qualified to look into,” Descartes Labs co-founder Mike Warren said. “It is just unfortunate that it is a global health crisis.”

All of that information is coming from Descartes Labs in Santa Fe. “We wanted to help the governor with the difficult task she has of managing this pandemic,” Warren said. He said they use smartphone geolocation to track movement. “Most dramatically, the stay-at-home order really reduced peoples’ movement a lot,” Warren said.

Warren said the aggregate cell phone data comes from a small percentage of smartphones in various counties. For example, they may take 10,000 samples per day in Bernalillo County. However, he said they do not track individuals and do not know who the phone numbers belong to.

The governor addressed privacy concerns recently in an interview with CNN.

“If there was anything this company or anyone else that was breaching federal or state laws protecting privacy, we wouldn’t have a relationship and we would have the appropriate accountability,” Lujan Grisham said.

The company is getting national attention for its work, putting a spotlight on New Mexico.

“We are working closely with San Francisco and Bay Area counties as well as the state of Colorado,” Warren said. “We are very unique here in New Mexico for having such a concentration of national labs and other expertise.”

Warren said he is thankful they are able to use their talents to help respond to this pandemic. “The science is very important to fight this, and we are privileged to have the people and resources we need to be able to contribute,” Warren said.

Warren said the next step is for them to understand how peoples’ behavior may change once stay-at-home orders are lifted. For example, they may look to see if people still stay at home because they may be nervous about going back out. Descartes Labs was founded in 2014 by a team of scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory.


New Mexico Coronavirus Resource Guide

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