The bright side: unintended consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic

When you think “pandemic”, bright sides is not what comes to mind. But there is the proverbial silver lining even in these less than cheerful times. Having to stay at home “sheltering in place” en masse, causes some unintended positive consequences of significant proportions. Let’s see what the data has to say.

Fewer traffic accidents

Staying at home and only going out for necessities means driving a lot less. Which in theory should result in a lot less traffic accidents. Current data on traffic accidents over time is not easy to find, but some cities maintain public dashboards, New York being one of them. Let’s look at what happened to their accident data over time. On the chart you see number of reported traffic accidents in the past year. In March 2019 the number of accidents was 17,759. This march, during the shelter in place, this number decreased by more than twice to 8,159!

More people are learning to make music and art

Cooped up at home, folks are turning to learning new things to fight boredom, find meaning and finally get to their new year’s resolutions. How can we confirm this is actually happening? With Google trends. This cool tool allows you to track user searches over time. I looked at three search queries “learn to draw” “learn guitar” and “learn piano” and lo and behold all three are trending up in March 2020. Compared to last March, the number of searches has doubled! [explanation of the normalization on y-axis]

Less pollution in the cities

Less traffic and more businesses closing means less pollution. You’ve probably seen cool interactive maps showing how pollution is clearing up. I have no cool interactive maps for you, but I have slightly less cool colourful graphs. These are coming from World Air Map by Plum labs, a company that makes air pollution sensors (this is not a product placement, just a data source). I could not download their data, so I took a screenshot of their dashboard for two cities – Moscow in Russia and Delhi in India. In both of these giant cities AQI is trending down in March and the air is cleaner than in the previous months.

Lower gas prices

Gas prices fell rapidly with the onset of the pandemic. As Alanis would say isn’t it ironic that we have to shelter in place and can’t take a cross-country trip. This dataset is coming from Ycharts which in turn pull it from the Energy Information Administration.

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