Americans are restless.
Like much of the world, many of us have been pent up in our homes more than usual over the last year. But as restrictions are lifted — including nearly all of them in Montana — the country is beginning to stir.
According to researchers at the University of Maryland who track movement of cellphones, we’re leaving home even more than before the pandemic began forcing lockdowns across the country in March 2020.
“We’ve been through a long winter and a lot of [COVID] cases,” Mofeng Yang, the lead researcher on the Maryland Transportation Institute project, told The Washington Post. “People might want to escape from their homes.”
That’s an apparent understatement. His data shows nationwide we’re taking as much as 13.6% more trips than we did before stay-at-home orders started taking effect. There is a collective desire to leave behind the monotony of it all.
Beyond the cell phone figures, actual humans are acknowledging that they are moving about more often. According to a recent Axios/Ipsos poll, 44% of respondents say they’ve visited with friends and family within the last week and just 13% are self-quarantining. Moreover, the results showed more Americans believe the outbreak will be over sooner rather than later.
Yes, we can at once stay vigilant and celebrate our reopening. And looking back on the year since former President Donald Trump officially declared the pandemic a national emergency, it’s hard to overstate how lucky we were to be stuck in Montana.
“Through a very collective action and shared sacrifice, national determination, we will overcome the threat of the virus,” Trump said at the time.
Within days of his speech, our state would issue a stay-at-home order, schools would switch to remote learning and restaurants and bars would close. Faced with few other options in a big state with lots of open space, I ventured outside. We all had the same idea.
Glacier National Park, which had limited access last summer, was forced to close its western entrance 18 times due to crowding in June after the park first reopened to visitors as well as an additional seven times during the course of summer. So we flocked to other areas like the Kootenai, Whitefish and Swan ranges.
When the weather turned and the snow arrived, we grabbed our gear and headed to the mountain, which felt a little more crowded than usual. So did the groomed Nordic trails. In fact, it felt like an unusually busy end of 2020. Perhaps that was because some of the capacity limits and rules in place. Perhaps that was because of all the newcomers who arrived here.
Still, we were lucky. Our lives were comparatively normal. Over the last year most of us could leave our homes and find enough space to roam around without getting close to anyone else, a luxury not available in many urban areas.
Now the weather is warming and we are beginning to see glimmers of a post-COVID world. The country is stirring, vaccinations are increasing and limits on gatherings are being lifted. We’ve had it better than most, but somehow the anticipation is still palpable.
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