They're doing something right.

By Maggie Seaver
July 15, 2020
Aerial view of Honolulu Harbor, Aloha Tower & Marketplace and downtown city skyline, Hawaii
Aerial view of Honolulu Harbor, Hawaii
| Credit: Getty Images

The concept of practicing social distancing—maintaining a six-foot-minimum span between you and other people—sounds simple enough. Along with proper hand washing and wearing a mask around others, social distancing has been a primary method for preventing the spread of COVID-19. 

But since when has simple meant easy, especially for those navigating this pandemic in a bustling, populous place? Big cities are designed to offer public access to shared spaces and to accommodate as many people as possible. So keeping a safe six feet from others in a city like Manhattan or San Jose probably seems like, well, a feat. 

Based on factors like physical layout, local government policies, and citizen cooperation, some cities seem to be better set up for social distancing success. And you might be surprised to know which urban settings are actually more conducive to social distancing than expected.

Unacast, a company that collects and analyzes human mobility data, has been keeping its own social distancing scoreboard for U.S. states and counties. Locations’ "scores" are determined by three key metrics, taken before and after the onset of coronavirus: percent change in average distance traveled; percent change in nonessential visitation; and decrease in human encounters (compared to the national baseline). 

So for instance, to earn an "A" score, a locale must have seen more than a 70 percent decrease in average distance traveled, more than a 70 percent decrease in nonessential visits, and more than a 94 percent decrease in in-person encounters since the coronavirus outbreak. That’s a tall order—which is likely why, as reported by Steve Cook for, “most of the nation’s 100 largest urban counties scored an ‘F’ for their lack of progress towards reducing visits and travel between March and mid-June.” Based on Unacast’s analysis of average local movement patterns and interactions, lists the five large U.S. cities with the highest social distancing scores.

Related Items

1 Manhattan (New York County, N.Y.)

Unacast data reveals that since the virus hit, New York County, home of Manhattan, America’s most-populous city, has earned a solid ‘C’ average on the scoreboard. This is thanks to a 40 to 55 percent drop in average mobility, a 70+ percent decline in nonessential visits, and 40 percent decrease in encounters density compared to the national baseline.

2 Washington, D.C.

When it comes to social distancing, mobility analysis shows the District of Columbia's efforts to be solid, too. Unacast calculates a D+ score due to its identical reductions in average mobility (40 to 55 percent) and encounters density (40 percent) to New York, but then a slightly less noteworthy drop in nonessential visits (60 to 65 percent.

3 Boston (Suffolk County, Mass.)

Another East Coast metropolis follows close behind. A 25 to 40 percent decrease in distance traveled, 60 to 65 percent decrease in nonessential visits, a 40 percent decrease in overall human encounters earns Boston a respectable ‘D’ score.

RELATED: 7 Creative Ways to Build Neighborhood Unity in the Age of Social Distancing

4 San Jose (Santa Clara County, Calif.)

This California city, in Santa Clara County, boasts a ‘D–’ for its similar (though slightly weaker) mobility declines to Suffolk County, above. San Jose only saw a 55 to 60 percent drop in nonessential visits.

5 Honolulu (Honolulu County, Hawaii)

Last, but not least, Honolulu, Hawaii earns a ‘D–,’ for its social distancing efforts too, having reduced average mobility by 25 to 40 percent, nonessential visits by 55 to 60 percent, and the average number of in-person encounters by less than 40 percent. 


Whatever your state or city’s social distancing score, keep up the good work by avoiding crowded places, having necessary meetings outdoors and well-spaced, and hanging out at home as much as possible. 

Now sure how to stay safely distant without going nuts? Here are 43 Fun Things to Do This Summer While You’re Social Distancing.