The number of Covid-19 cases has dropped in most states from January highs while vaccination distribution has picked up, but life in most of the U.S. isn’t back to normal. Americans went out less in January, February and early March compared with the same period in 2020, before the Covid-19 pandemic forced state lockdowns. The number of times people spent 10 minutes or more away from home was down 6% across the U.S., according to data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. In some states, including Mississippi, Alabama and the Dakotas, people ventured out at almost the same rate they did in early 2020.
Foot-traffic data analyzed by The Wall Street Journal show that many people have returned to restaurants but are far less enthusiastic about movie theaters. Fewer people are filling congregation pews in every state except Wyoming. Gyms in North Dakota are busier than before the pandemic, but fewer people are hopping onto treadmills everywhere else. Nationwide people are spending less time in traffic and sticking closer to home, compared with in early 2020.
Overall, Americans are visiting houses of worship and nonessential businesses such as gyms and movie theaters a median of 19% less often than they did right before the pandemic hit. In Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota, these establishments have almost made a full comeback. The three states are also among the 11 states where people traveled more miles in cars than before Covid-19, while the national median dropped 6%.
In the Dakotas, which have had fewer restrictions than most states, bars have been crowded, and weddings and large gatherings have taken place. Public schools have been mostly open for in-person learning since September. South Dakota and North Dakota had the two highest Covid-19 daily case rates per 100,000 people as of April 2.
In Arizona and North Carolina, foot traffic at nonessential businesses and houses of worship in January, February and early March was closer to the national median. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper eased restrictions at the end of February, allowing retail stores, gyms and restaurants to open at 50% capacity. On March 23, the state announced that it would lift its 11 p.m. closing time for serving alcohol and increase occupancy limits for nonessential businesses. Bars, gyms, restaurants and theaters in Arizona were allowed to operate at full capacity in March.