August 11, 2020

Maps and Apps

I know many of us are disappointed and frustrated with the US response to the COVID-19 outbreak. We see other countries who have made progress and are starting to see things open up there with few infections. Our government’s mixed messaging has confused people and our leadership has failed us as a nation. New hot spots of infections continue to develop, especially in areas that are skeptical of the seriousness of the disease. We worry about the thousands of bikers at the South Dakota meet up bringing COVID-19 home with them. Mask wearing still lags in many areas. Good to see more people finally using them in states with high numbers, such as Florida and Texas. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless.

Yet, at the same time, many of the brightest and most innovative researchers are using data to help us get a handle on the situation. Many of them use maps to help the data make sense. I don’t know about you, but I have always loved looking at maps. I liked looking at maps, even before my brother Clint started working at ESRI, a major computerized mapping firm that does GIS (geographic information system) software. Since he has been working there, I am even more fascinated by the data that can be shown with maps. ESRI’s software, ArcGIS, is the one used for the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Dashboard keeping track of of worldwide infections and deaths from COVID-19.

IHME, a University of Washington Institute has dire projections of 300,000 deaths in the US by Dec. 1st, but they show that those numbers could drop by 70,000 or more if 95% of people started wearing masks. Another data base, called “COVID-19 Maps” bases its projections on machine learning with some surprisingly accurate forecasts. Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), best known for research on nuclear weapons and energy, is even in on the game. LANL has an interactive map that forecasts infections and deaths by state and country. The New York Times and other news organizations use data driven maps to help illustrate things, like this excellent map showing the risk of children being exposed to SARS-CoV-2 at school.

Knowing that all of these people and organizations are working to track and follow infections, looking for trends, looking for solutions, is reassuring to me. The number of infections are dropping in Florida and Texas as people there take the pandemic more seriously. Deaths will lag by 2 weeks but the trend is improving.

Another hopeful thing is finding ways to help, besides just keeping ourselves safe. This COVID Symptom study is something you can do easily. I vouch for it. It is from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, affiliated with Harvard. The study follows symptoms and trends in people all over the country and has already made some remarkable observations. It takes one minute a day. You can go to the site and download the app for your smart phone (if you have one). They use your data and symptoms to track hot spots developing. We can help beat COVID together! Hat tip to the other Dr. Brown I work with.

And finally, my caveat is that this is my experience and my opinions, which are subject to change as more information is available, and not related to the organization I work for. Thanks for reading.

Wash your hands, cover your nose, keep safe six and download the app.