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UT Provided Data Used by Governor Lee in Stay-at-Home Order

Empty Tennessee road with trees surrounding both sides.

Photo provided by JP Valery/Unsplash.

One of the ways that officials have been trying to combat the spread of COVID-19 is by asking people to travel only when necessary, such as to the doctor or grocery store.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee turned that suggestion into an order on Thursday, requiring that people stay home except for essential travel, effective immediately and lasting until April 14 at the earliest.

“Over the last few weeks, we have seen decreases in movement around the state as Tennesseans socially distance and stay at home,” Lee said in a press release. “However, in recent days we have seen data indicating that movement may be increasing, and we must get these numbers trending back down. I have updated my previous executive order to clearly require that Tennesseans stay at home unless they are carrying out essential activities.”

The data Lee referred to was collected and analyzed by researchers in UT’s Tickle College of Engineering, acting under leadership from and in collaboration with the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT).

CEE Professor Lee Han worked with TDOT on the numbers, which showed an initial sharp decline when many places began to temporarily close in response to the disease.

“We used TDOT’s Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) sensors to make various analyses for the daily reports,” Han said. “We compare weekdays versus weekdays and weekends versus weekends because they are very different.”

The overall numbers for the state and its top four metro areas—Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, and Chattanooga—all hit their lowest point on March 29, with statewide traffic down 53 percent from a similar Sunday a year ago. Weekday traffic was down about 43 percent from last year on average.

However, that downward trend seems to have slowed down or even stalled in the following days, with a slight rise in all urban areas on Wednesday, April 1, prompting the governor’s response.

Lee’s statement also thanked those who were already limiting their travel and urged people to follow the order to keep the situation from escalating.