University of Michigan Study Indicates Effect of Stay-At-Home Orders on Noise Exposure

The University of Michigan:

Researchers at U-M’s School of Public Health and Apple Inc. looked at noise exposure data from volunteer Apple Watch users in Florida, New York, California and Texas. The analysis, one of the largest to date, included more than a half million daily noise levels measured before and during the pandemic.

Daily average sound levels dropped approximately 3 decibels during the time that local governments made announcements about social distancing and issued stay-at-home orders in March and April, compared to January and February.

“That is a huge reduction in terms of exposure and it could have a great effect on people’s overall health outcomes over time,” said Rick Neitzel, associate professor of environmental health sciences at U-M’s School of Public Health. “The analysis demonstrates the utility of everyday use of digital devices in evaluating daily behaviors and exposures.”

Via Om Malik:

Humans aren’t the only one who are impacted by noise and resulting stress. “Birds sing louder in noisy environments, and research has shown the resulting stress can speed aging and disrupt their metabolisms,” reports Science Mag. “Noise can also keep them from hearing their own chicks—or the warnings of fellow birds; it may even be driving down bird diversity in many cities.” The pandemic saw bird songs become softer and fewer fights breaking out among males.

But back to humans. Not surprisingly, California and New York had drastic reductions quite fast. Florida and Texas, not as much.

One problem with the study is that it required that participants spoke English, had an iPhone 6s or later, and an Apple Watch Series 4 or later. That demographic profile skews towards a more affluent, white-collar worker who has the luxury of being at home and is less exposed to noise on the roads. It was clear during the early parts of the pandemic, and the impact was uneven. A large swathe of minority and lower-income populations in the US suffered inordinately during the pandemic. Many, if not most, didn’t have the luxury of working from home.

In local news, Calgary Police say they received more noise complaints than usual this year for loud vehicles. I live near many arterial roads and this summer felt noisier than usual as far as cars and motorcycles go, but I don’t know whether that’s because cars are getting louder, everything else was quieter, or there were more assholes on the road.