Disparate patterns of movements and visits to points of interest located in urban hotspots across US metropolitan cities during COVID-19. Academic Article uri icon


  • We examined the effect of social distancing on changes in visits to urban hotspot points of interest. In a pandemic situation, urban hotspots could be potential superspreader areas as visits to urban hotspots can increase the risk of contact and transmission of a disease among a population. We mapped census-block-group to point-of-interest (POI) movement networks in 16 cities in the United States. We adopted a modified coarse-grain approach to examine patterns of visits to POIs among hotspots and non-hotspots from January to May 2020. Also, we conducted chi-square tests to identify POIs with significant flux-in changes during the analysis period. The results showed disparate patterns across cities in terms of reduction in hotspot POI visitors. Sixteen cities were divided into two categories using a time series clustering method. In one category, which includes the cities of San Francisco, Seattle and Chicago, we observed a considerable decrease in hotspot POI visitors, while in another category, including the cities of Austin, Houston and San Diego, the visitors to hotspots did not greatly decrease. While all the cities exhibited overall decreased visitors to POIs, one category maintained the proportion of visitors to hotspot POIs. The proportion of visitors to some POIs (e.g. restaurants) remained stable during the social distancing period, while some POIs had an increased proportion of visitors (e.g. grocery stores). We also identified POIs with significant flux-in changes, indicating that related businesses were greatly affected by social distancing. The study was limited to 16 metropolitan cities in the United States. The proposed methodology could be applied to digital trace data in other cities and countries to study the patterns of movements to POIs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

published proceedings

  • R Soc Open Sci

altmetric score

  • 2.7

author list (cited authors)

  • Li, Q., Bessell, L., Xiao, X., Fan, C., Gao, X., & Mostafavi, A.

citation count

  • 15

complete list of authors

  • Li, Qingchun||Bessell, Liam||Xiao, Xin||Fan, Chao||Gao, Xinyu||Mostafavi, Ali

publication date

  • January 2021