Small areas hit hard by COVID-19 find representation in U of C map

Medical Watch

CHICAGO — Mapping hidden clusters of COVID-19 is the work of local researchers who hope to provide smaller areas disproportionately hit with infection a fighting chance at survival.

Using the same tool they used to track the opioid epidemic, University of Chicago Center for Spatial Data Science researchers track COVID-19 at the county level. It is a data point Dr Marynia Kolak said is often overlooked on state maps.

“If you are focused too much on your city, town or county, you may miss what is happening in nearby counties,” she said. “And because it’s infectious, we have to be worried about spillover.”

People tend to live in cities or towns, so if you are looking at the state of Illinois, a lot of the numbers are happening in Chicago. It is a pretty small piece of the bigger state. So knowing that is really important. You can zoom to that area, work with policymakers and health groups on the ground to contain it before it expands.

– Dr Marynia Kolak

Chicago and Cook County are highly populated and clear hotspots. Compare that to smaller, more rural areas that are just as hot when the population is considered as a factor and where resources may be harder to come by.

“Even though the total number of cases are smaller, these areas will also have fewer hospital beds and fewer ventilators,” Kolak said.

Dr Qinyun Lin has helped develop the interactive map tool.

From Seattle to Chicago to New York, known hot spots stand out. But a few clicks on the map tell a different story with some surprising red in the South.

“When we look at this map, we paid attention to New Orleans, Albany, Miami and Arkansas,” she said. “And we can miss this regional cluster if we only look at state level.”
The map also can show the county clusters growing.

“So far the feedback has been mostly positive,” Kolak said. “There was a resident from Mississippi who was surprised to hear a hot spot cluster and they were really thankful to see the data.”

The researchers update their map twice a week.

Check out the interactive map tool here.

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