Giving Compass' Take:

• Although it may be difficult to tell based on state data, COVID-19 hot spots are forming in states that we should be paying attention to. 

• How can state data improve so that it can better inform policy as well as the direction of charitable dollars? 

• Learn how small rural funders can respond to COVID-19. 

Looking at data at the county level rather than the state level allowed them to find trends “hidden” in the larger view, the researchers say. The results, compiled in an interactive visualization, are a way to more efficiently track coronavirus clusters and direct urgently needed resources.

“County-level visualizations show a dramatically more detailed pandemic landscape, where aggregate data alone can miss local hot spots of surging COVID cases,” says Marynia Kolak, assistant director of health informatics at the Center for Spatial Data Science at the University of Chicago. “If you only look at state-level data, a county cluster would have to be extreme to show up, and by then you’re already too late for many of these prevention measures.”

Kolak’s previous work included analyzing the spread of the opioid epidemic, where she found localized, county-level data to be crucial. As the coronavirus began to spread rapidly, she and colleagues at the Center for Spatial Data Science worked quickly to apply the approach to better identify and track COVID-19 hot spots on a daily basis.

“While high case numbers in population-dense, high-travel areas like New York City, New Jersey, and Seattle are of course a focus of concern, local hot spots in areas with limited hospital infrastructure can be easily overlooked,” says Xun Li, the assistant director of data science at the CSDS. “Even in the past few days we watched clusters emerge in areas like Albany, Georgia and spin up very rapidly. Now we’re getting reports that ICUs are at or over capacity there.”

The researchers worry that even if there are fewer numbers of cases in hospitals in rural areas, there are also correspondingly fewer beds, ventilators, and medical staff, especially in states that did not expand Medicaid.

Read the full article about data on cluster outbreaks by Louise Lerner at Futurity.