Stopping the Spread: New Tool Shows You the Risk Level for Your Community

The Coronavirus is here to stay. Even when a vaccine becomes available, the introduction of this virus to the World will probably change your pattern of thinking. In a World where a new virus exists, the economy simply can’t shut down again, this has a more devastating butterfly effect from mental health to suicide. Instead, people’s behaviors need to change. If you’re at risk, you should stay home. The reality is, that most people in an 18-40 year old age group, will recover from any infection.

To help with the new normal, Harvard University has just released a new tool for tracking the spread of the virus as well as the risk of infection on state and local levels. You and your patients can use this tool to see how safe it is to visit a local bar or restaurant – or if you’re better off staying at home.

The Risk-Assessment Map

The Harvard Global Health Institute, a collaboration of some of the best scientists in the country, has just released a risk-assessment map for COVID-19 that includes the entire United States. It pulls data from multiple sources, including state and local health agencies, health networks, and the CDC. The tool then assigns each county a color based on its risk level.

  • Green areas carry little to no risk. They have <1 daily new case per 100,000 people and are considered close to containment.
  • Yellow areas carry moderate risk. They have 1-9 daily new cases per 100,000 people and there is some potential for the virus to spread in the community.
  • Orange areas are those that are on the rise in terms of infection. They have 10-24 daily new cases per 100,000 people. More testing and contact tracing are likely needed.
  • Red areas are the most severe with 25+ daily new cases per 100,000 people. These areas do not have the virus under control.

With limited testing and contact tracing in some areas, the spread of the virus remains unknown. The map assigns risk based on how volatile each situation seems to be. Entering a red zone does not mean you’re going to get infected, but these areas seem to have little control over the pandemic, so it’s best to err on the side of caution or just avoid them entirely, if possible.

The group chose to emphasize the number of new daily cases per 100,000 people, as this is a good indicator of the perceived threat level. This number shows us how quickly the virus is spreading, so we can prevent future cases.

Currently, most states fall into the “yellow” category, including all of New England, the Midwest, and the Northeast. There are 14 states in the “orange” category, including Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and other southern states. We have two “red” hotspots, Arizona and Florida, and just one “green” state: Hawaii.

The Need for Collaboration and Clarity

The tool can be used to compare one area to another in terms of risk, so residents can make more informed decisions. It may be something as simple as visiting the grocery store in the next town over, staying away from popular beaches, or cooking at home instead of visiting a local restaurant.

In the U.S., so much economic activity depends on inter-state travel. We are constantly hopping from one county to the next, so we need to share information across these boundaries. States and localities may be unaware of what’s happening in these communities. The tool also includes guidance in terms of how these areas can stop the spread. They suggest more contact tracing, mandatory face masks orders, and even a return to sheltering-in-place.

Ellie Graeden of Talus Analytics and the Center for Global Health, Science and Security at Georgetown University, who worked on the project, says, “As this [pandemic] unfolded, a lot of us were waiting for the federal government to stand up and really produce…some practical guidance on how those at the state and local level should be responding.”

This map should help fill in the blanks in terms of what’s happening on the ground. Instead of complicated dashboards, the tool makes it easy for just about everyone to assess their risk. You don’t need a college degree to comb through the data. Just look at the color and stay informed.

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