Human mobility datasets collected from personal mobile device locations are integral to understanding how states, counties, and cities have collectively adapted to pervasive social disruption stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, while indigenous tribal communities in the United States have been disproportionately devastated by the pandemic, the relatively sparse populations and data available in these hard-hit tribal areas often exclude them from mobility studies. We explore the effects of sparse mobility data in untangling the often inter-correlated relationship between human mobility, distancing orders, and case growth throughout 2020 in tribal and rural areas of California. Our findings account for data sparsity imprecision to show: 1) Mobility through legal tribal boundaries was unusually low but still correlated highly with case growth; 2) Case growth correlated less strongly with mobility later in the the year in all areas; and 3) State-mandated distancing orders later in the year did not necessarily precede lower mobility medians, especially in tribal areas. It is our hope that with more timely feedback offered by mobile device datasets even in sparse areas, health policy makers can better plan health emergency responses that still keep the economy vibrant across all sectors.
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