Website developed by SF, Boston researchers helps identify COVID-19 hotspots, forewarns of surges

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Researchers based in San Francisco and Boston have created an online tool to help identify where COVID-19 hot spots are developing.

The hope is to forewarn the health system when to expect a surge in cases, but it requires everyone's help, whether sick or not.

As patients get admitted for treatment, and as more testing is done, public health officials are able to see where the hot spots are. That enables maps to be created, such as one produced and updated daily by Johns Hopkins University.

The next step is trying to identify emerging hot spots, possibly two weeks earlier to warn hospitals of a possible surge in patients.

Eight years ago, a site called Flu Near You was created by the nonprofit group Ending Pandemics in San Francisco.

It asked the public to check in to report if they're well or not. That has now been transformed into Covid Near You.

"The idea of bringing the public into early detection and rapid response is how we're really going to transform public health," said Endling Pandemics President Mark Smolinski.
If you're not feeling well, you're asked to check off your symptoms.

It's a process called crowdsourcing.

350,000 reports have been submitted so far, allowing Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard to create a new kind of map to track.

A lack of reports of illness could be an indication that sheltering in place and social distancing is effective.

"Some systems only ask people to report if they're sick," noted Dr. Smolinski. "Well, if you get both then it gives you a better idea what's happening over time."
Regular check-ins are important, so reminders are sent out.

Broad support is needed to create usable data. Another goal is to collect phone numbers for follow-up. The site is

"Let's go for 10 percent of the U.S. population," said Dr. Smolinski. "If we can get 30 million people to report into over the next six weeks, that would never have been done anywhere on the planet."

It's an example of innovation to advance knowledge of the pandemic.

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