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Interactive COVID-19 Map Shows How Risky Events Are In Your Area

COVID risk assessment tool map

 Georgia Tech

Key Takeaways

  • COVID-19 cases are rising across the U.S. and an interactive map allows you to see how risky a social gathering is in your state and county.
  • The tool is intended to help people better understand risk and encourage them to engage in measures to protect themselves and others.
  • Experts say that regardless of risk levels, it’s vital that people continue to wear masks, practice physical distancing, and wash hands to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Cases of COVID-19 are rising in parts of the U.S. as we head into the holiday season. Certain regions are considered hotspots, as various local and state governments have developed their own pandemic response plans—some more successfully than others.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a COVID-19 data tracker that shows case counts in each state, others researchers have developed their own tools, including the COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool.

Led by experts based in Georgia, the risk assessment tool lets users view relative risk levels when it comes to attending an event or gathering in a specific area. On an interactive, color-coded map, users can choose where the gathering is happening (state and county) and how many people will be in attendance (10 to 5,000). 

Once a user inputs their data, the risk level appears on the map. Yellow means lower-risk, red represents high-risk. 

“The risk level is the estimated chance (0-100%) that at least one COVID-19 positive individual will be present at an event in a county, given the size of the event,” the tool’s website states. 

The map’s developers acknowledge that based on seroprevalence (antibody) data and increases in testing, they assume “there are five times more cases than are being reported.” In places where there’s less testing availability, cases may be even higher. 

“The reality is that COVID-19 has differentially affected regions throughout its spread, both globally and in the U.S.,” Joshua Weitz, PhD, a professor of biological sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology and developer of the risk assessment tool, tells Verywell.

“Regional risk is real, and yet there is also significant intra-state variation," he says. "Even within counties, it's important to recognize the variation that we don't visualize, often linked to race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic factors.”

Knowing Your Risk Is Not an Excuse To Ignore Rules

Weitz’s map shows that there’s no completely “safe” way to socialize during the pandemic and risk is everywhere right now. Even in lesser-hit regions, the risk for COVID-19 transmission significantly increases with the size of the event.

Health experts are concerned about large gatherings—especially over the holidays. In fact, the CDC says the safest way to celebrate this upcoming Thanksgiving is to do so only with the people in your household.

It can be hard for people to understand risk when they think about seeing family or friends and are only reading case count stats from public health officials. But by seeing color-coded data, the hope is that people better understand the risk of attending events and modify their behavior.

“That's precisely why we developed this tool,” Weitz explains. “To connect recent documented case reports with the realities of under-testing, and link those two concepts to a tangible question on people's minds: what are the odds that one or more individuals may have COVID-19 at events of different sizes?” 

It’s important, however, that people don’t use the data to underestimate their risk of catching COVID-19. 

According to Helen Chen, PhD, the associate director of the Professional Practice Centre for Health Systems at the University of Waterloo, the “real challenge of predicting COVID’s transmission path is that we do not know who will be that ‘superspreader’ and who will not.” (A superspreader is someone with COVID-19 who spreads it to a disproportionately high amount of people.)

“Another big unknown in this type of [data map] modeling is that we do not have the attendee’s behavior in this model,” Chen tells Verywell. “We do not know if they will all wear surgical masks as required, or if they are singing or eating together, as we’ve seen in some presidential rallies in the past.”

Indeed, Weitz and his team encourage people to take steps to reduce their risk of infection and prevent the spread of COVID-19 with measures like handwashing, wearing a mask and practicing physical distancing. 

Data Changes Daily

Information is rapidly changing, and government health guidelines are in flux, too. Weitz’s map makes the best educated calculation based on real-time surveillance data, but as he points out, there’s a margin to account for factors like under-testing. 

What This Means For You

COVID-19 has affected regions differently both globally and throughout the U.S. Researchers out of Georgia have developed a COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Tool to help people understand the risk of attending a social gathering in their area. Regardless of relative risk, experts say people need to limit their interactions with others, wear a mask, wash their hands, and practice physical distancing until the pandemic is over.

In a recently published paper by Weitz and his team, they write that because the data used in their map is based on case counts documented at the county level, “further refinement to tract on zip code levels is not yet feasible,” nor is risk based on socioeconomic status, race, or gender.

“Second, the risk model assumes that individuals are equally likely to attend an event, whereas increases in symptomatic case isolation indicates that a fraction of infectious individuals are unlikely to attend events,” researchers wrote.

Still, the goal of the map is to provide users with a sense of how prevalent the virus is in a specific area, and help them grasp how risky socializing can be.

The Role of Technology In Infectious Diseases

The pandemic has given way for significant healthcare developments through technology, which has improved patient outcomes, Jayson Myers, an economist and chief executive officer at Next Generation Manufacturing Canada, tells Verywell. 

A focus on data—as seen though COVID-19 apps, software programs and tools like this map that help determine risk—has transformed the way that innovation takes place in the healthcare space, he says.

“The continued use of advanced healthcare products creates value for the user in the form of richer health insights, but also provides an ever-growing ocean of data to train new algorithms to develop smarter, improved products, platforms and medical breakthroughs in the future,” Myers says.

These technological advancements are an important part of pandemic response, but public health preparedness does not stop at the development of such tools, he adds. What’s needed are preparedness plans that are smart and flexible, as well as “integrated supply chains that enable an agile response to public crises.” Distributing a COVID-19 vaccine, for example, will require a strong, integrated plan between manufacturers, government officials and health-care providers.

Weitz says that he created his map in response to the COVID-19 pandemic specifically because of the role of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spread — one the most challenges aspects of the disease, he says. If people can better understand how the virus spreads and the risk it poses, it can help modify behavior and hopefully improve outcomes.

"For now, we are focusing on COVID-19, [but] I hope that this connection between circulating case and gathering risk can become part of public health agency communication efforts moving forward and in responses to come," he says.

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  1. Chande, A., Lee, S., Harris, M. et al. Real-time, interactive website for US-county-level COVID-19 event risk assessment. Nat Hum Behav (2020). doi:10.1038/s41562-020-01000-9

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Celebrating Thanksgiving. Updated November 12, 2020.

  3. Chande A, Lee S, Harris M, et al. Real-time, interactive website for US-county-level COVID-19 event risk assessmentNature Human Behaviour. 2020. doi:10.1038/s41562-020-01000-9