Coronavirus: impact on online usage in the U.S. - Statistics & Facts

From school lessons and office work to physical exercise and doctors’ appointments - more aspects of people’s daily social and professional lives are moving online as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This trend is particularly visible in the United States, where the number of confirmed infections has been on a steady rise since early 2020. While the U.S. government has not yet imposed a nationwide lockdown, the population is advised to stay at home, self-isolate, or shelter in place, while most states and localities have already issued school and public business closures in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. Hence, millions of Americans are now turning to technology for communication, entertainment, and work, causing an unprecedented spike in data traffic. The first weeks of March saw an 18 percent increase in in-home data usage compared to the same period in 2019, with average daily data usage rates exceeding 16.6 GB.

As a result of society’s virtual shutdown, online traffic surged double-digits across multiple categories in March. While online gaming activities skyrocketed, there has also been a visible increase in VPN usage, web traffic, and streaming over the past few months. Digital communication services are witnessing particularly high demand, as large shares of Americans are practicing social distancing and limiting in-person interactions amidst the coronavirus crisis. According to a recent survey, 76 percent of adults used e-mail or other messaging services to communicate with others, and while these virtual forms of contact cannot fully replace face-to-face encounters, they certainly act as a good, and, most importantly, safe alternative.

Another aspect of social life that is gradually shifting online due to COVID-19 is shopping. As a wide range of businesses were forced to temporarily close their doors in the wake of the pandemic, around 37 percent of consumers expected to spend more on goods from online marketplaces such as Amazon in March 2020. While pharmacies and grocery stores remain open across the county, a large share of Americans reported a willingness to purchase medication and groceries online, if confined at home. When asked about their online media consumption during quarantine, over 40 percent of U.S. respondents professed to have watched more content on streaming services, while another 40 percent expected to spend more time watching YouTube videos to entertain themselves at home.

Other types of online content that are seeing visitor boosts as a result of the coronavirus outbreak are online news formats. Online media is among the most-used sources of information about the virus because it offers real-time updates on the progression of the disease, as well as the latest numbers of confirmed cases. The website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov) was the most popular governmental web domain in the United States in March 2020, with almost 432.3 million digital visits. As the majority of the American population consider the CDC the most trustworthy source of information on COVID-19, cdc.gov recorded over 934 million page views that month. That said, social media was considered the least trustworthy source of information on the coronavirus outbreak, according to a March survey.

But while upward data usage trends can be seen as indicators of compliance with stay-at-home orders, they are also putting a major strain on the internet. With millions of Americans working from home, usage of remote-access technologies and video-conferencing apps is spiking. Around 37 percent of U.S. respondents reported using their laptops more due to the coronavirus outbreak, and as quarantines are not set to be suspended anytime soon, the increase in fixed-line and mobile internet usage will likely continue in the weeks and months to come. Internet companies and broadband providers are therefore faced with the enormous challenge of ensuring the functioning of networks during this unprecedented stress test of the U.S. internet infrastructure. A digital challenge of a different type has already manifested itself for a large share of the U.S. population. As millions of households across the country do not have an internet connection, workers are struggling to perform work duties remotely, emphasizing how the digital divide is still prevalent in the year 2020.

For further information about the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, please visit our dedicated Facts and Figures page.

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