By Mary Kate McGrath - May 27, 2020
In March, the coronavirus pandemic ushered in an unprecedented era of social-distancing and quarantine efforts across the United States, requiring state and local officials to leverage innovative tools and strategies for COVID-19 response. Administrators looking to better understand the scope or scale of the epidemic have invested in robust data sharing and mapping efforts.
Residents in many areas have become familiar with coronavirus heat maps, which track the scale of local outbreak, as well as data charts mapping new cases and deaths as states work to “flatten the curve.” Flattening the curve refers to the data-reliant public health strategy to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus and limit the burden of hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
Moving forward, data sharing and mapping will have an even greater role in COVID-19 response. Contact tracing, which is a core disease control measure state and local public health departments have used for decades, will be a key strategy in preventing the spread of the coronavirus, as per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. State and local communities need to scale up and train a contact tracer workforce to work across public and private agencies to identify new clusters of COVID-19, and facilitate self-quarantine or other self-isolation strategies. Doing so will require robust data management systems, as well as plans to map reports to better understand scale and scope of the virus.
Data collection and management will continue to play a large role in both keeping people safe and facilitating economic recovery. Cities can keep residents up to date on coronavirus cases, location data can be provided to healthcare officials looking to track coronavirus spread, apps to facilitate voluntary case-reporting, and a vulnerable needs registry to ensure leaders can better keep residents safe.
Data Dashboards. In Massachusetts, Mayor Marty Walsh unveiled two data dashboards for residents in Boston and the rest of the state to access up-to-date information about the coronavirus pandemic. ”Ensuring residents have accurate, up to date information about the coronavirus is critical during this challenging time," said Mayor Walsh. "These dashboards are another resource for residents to gather information and stay informed as we follow public health guidelines to keep ourselves and each other safe."
The dashboards are updated regularly with information from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as well as Massachusetts Department of Public Health. One dashboard provides a “Covid-19 Case Tracker”, showing a breakdown of total tests taken, confirmed cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in Boston. Another dashboard labeled “Coronavirus COVID-19 Cases in Massachusetts” offers a heatmap view of the state and data on total cases, hospitalizations, patients in the ICU, and deaths.
Data Management For Contact Tracing. Data management systems are a critical component of contact tracing programs, allowing for the quick transfer of laboratory and case data for public health action, as per the CDC. Technology partners will be key for the development of user friendly interfaces, and case management tools can automate part of the process to make it more efficient. Data systems should also automate reports to aid in monitoring progress and outcomes of contact tracing, as per the CDC. Emerging technology can also assist public and private healthcare providers with client communication, patient monitoring, strategies to amplify contact tracing.
Location Data For Health Officials. Google is allowing healthcare providers to access its ample storage of data on user’s movements to track the spread of COVID-19, as per the Harvard Ash Data Center. Google Maps will use a fraction of the information collected on users to produce reports on social distancing measures and their effectiveness, monitoring flow of traffic to grocery stores, pharmacies, parks, or other locations in certain areas, states, or counties. For privacy purposes, the data is anonymized and reports will be posted publicly, and the tech-giant consulted on the process with the CDC and WHO before unrolling.
Maps To Address Food Scarcity. In California, Stanford University students in a data class made an interactive map of where free meals are being offered across the state, providing a crucial tool for families who rely on free-or-reduced lunch or breakfast, according to Chronicle. The map, which was put together in collaboration with school districts, details 441 grab-and-go sites over 10 counties. In Texas, the COVID-19 Resources & Recovery Site helps the general public identify food distribution sites and find personal protective equipment, as per UTSA. Making map platforms public can be a powerful strategy for connecting those in-need with food, PPE, or housing resources during this difficult time.
Safety Profile Data For First Responders. Empower residents to facilitate effective coronavirus response - and manage their own safety - by encouraging all to sign up for a safety profile. Smart911 allows residents to self-identify as a high-risk individual, and to specify any underlying conditions, such as being immunocompromised or respiratory illness. For first responders, this information can prove valuable while responding to a call, allowing for faster, more effective care.
Administrators can also then target information and notifications based on both conditions and geography - for example, if an individual contracted COVID-19 and lived in a large housing complex, all those in the high-risk profile for the disease can be advised to self-quarantine. All data is kept confidential and secure, and can be stored in compliance with state and local laws or regulations.
Many data and mapping strategies can raise difficult privacy questions for state and local governments. Public health officials and law enforcement are understandably eager to leverage all digital tracking or surveillance tools at their disposal, but privacy advocates are raising concerns that coronavirus responsee efforts are threatening the balance between public safety and personal safety, according to the New York Times. But crowdsourcing can provide a more transparent way forward for administrators looking to leverage the power of data to identify cases of COVID-19, connect individuals with food or protective equipment, and manage safety for high-risk individuals.
Crowdsourced can provide a secure, reliable way to identify and assist high-risk individuals. Establishing a vulnerable needs registry allows residents to self-volunteer information, and this data can be used to help emergency managers, public safety, and public-health leaders understand the individuals most at-risk. Residents can submit medical information to first responders, and this can be used to during an event like the coronavirus pandemic, allowing emergency managers to easily identify residents in need of assistance, communicate through targeted messaging, and assign the appropriate resources to help them.
Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.
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