26 May 2020
Salsa Digital

Real-time COVID-19 risk assessment

Imagine if you could check an app or website before you headed to a particular location, and get a real-time risk assessment of COVID-19 exposure. That’s the vision behind α-satellite, a project from Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) in Cleveland, Ohio. Work started on the tool in early March and a test website and app has been available since April.

How it works

Users can type in an address or the name of a location to see the real-time risk assessment for that particular place. The risk index number is calculated by artificial intelligence (AI) based on data from a number of sources. The area’s population density and real-time traffic is also displayed so users get a good idea of how many people might also be in that location. Users can then use these three things to decide whether to visit the location. It can also be used to compare different areas. The example given in an article on the Case Western Reserve University website is a user who wants to look at risk assessments for different local supermarkets. They can compare the risk factors, the densities and real-time traffic data (depicted by the number of ‘stars’) to decide which supermarket to visit...or maybe decide not to visit those particular shops.

The open data

The tool uses a variety of open data, including:

  • Number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, new cases, deaths and the fatality rates, sourcing data from the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state and county government websites

  • Data from the US Census Bureau on population

  • Traffic/mobility data to measure how busy a location is

  • User data from social media (Reddit) to get an idea of public perception toward COVID-19 in that location (if users are not very aware or don’t believe it’s serious, the risk of going to that location is higher)

Salsa Digital’s take

While the user interface of the website needs a little TLC from a graphic designer and UX designer, α-satellite is a fantastic idea and something we’d love to see in Australia. While our community transmission and general case rate is extremely low compared to other countries (especially America), a website or app like α-satellite will help people make decisions about their movements in the coming months. The uncertainty around how long COVID-19 will be an issue for the world also provides another strong incentive for development, and such an app would complement the government’s efforts. This tool can also be used during any future health crises and shows the application of combining open datasets to create useful, real-time analysis. In the US, the α-satellite team is currently in discussions with city and state governments as well as healthcare providers to look at how the concept can be used going forward. We say open source it so other countries like Australia can use and adapt the code!

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